Lateral thinking in MVNO Innovation – Voices from Africa

Lateral thinking in MVNO Innovation – Voices from Africa

by | Jul 8, 2024 | Markets, MVNO

The inaugural MVNO Nation Africa Conference will be taking place on 16th and 17th July this year in Cape Town. I am honored to be moderating a panel discussion titled Unleashing the power of innovation in African MVNOs. To the unschooled Africa and innovation especially in high tech industries is a contradiction in terms. But we do know that the social economic environment within the African continent has engendered innovations that would not have been possible in developed countries and frankly, venture on the edge of being thought to be mad cap. The oft quoted example is the development of mobile money, which makes Africa the leading continent on the same globally. Sadly, this great innovation came about because of a need. The banking infrastructure in most Sub-Saharan Countries was (and still is) suboptimal yet the people needed the means to move money around.

Still, there is more to high tech innovations in Africa than mobile money, admittedly some of the innovations are on the back of mobile money. One example of the emergence of Nairobi as the so-called Silicon Savannah due to its lively tech startup scene. A big part of the tech scene story is the ease of getting paid for services in Kenya, in turn engendered by mobile money. This ease of payment has made it possible to rapidly proto-type a plethora of applications leading to a healthy startup ecosystem.

In my own experience, operator ARPUs in Africa (and to be fair, the rest of the world) have been declining over the years. And the operators have been at a loss as to where the next dollar of incremental ARPU will come from. We think that innovations in MVNO pose a probable path to this next dollar. The MVNO business by its own nature means that the MVNOs help the operators expand their addressable markets to areas that would not have been possible for whatever reasons. The MVNO operators on the other hand would have access to this market. But it does not stop there, the MVNO needs to be innovative in order to give the host operator. This means expanding their offerings beyond the classical minutes and megabytes.

It is with this background that MVNO nation has invited 6 leaders in African MVNO space to lend their voice to the innovations debate. This article will introduce them and briefly explore their role in pushing realms of innovation in Africa and indeed global MVNO space.

The innovation in African MVNO panel

Len Pienaar has been a leading voice in mobile banking and MVNO innovation across Africa for some time. As the founding CEO of FNB mCommerce and the former CEO of FNB Connect—the largest MVNO by subscribers in Africa today—Len pioneered these fully owned by the bank ventures without an existing template at the time. He also had to navigate the cultural divide between the banking and mobile telecommunications sectors. Currently, he serves as managing director at AdvanceGuidance, a consulting firm specialising in using data and AI to optimise customer journeys. We look forward to hearing from this industry stalwart.

Danson Muchemi is the founder and CEO of JamboPay Kenya, which is a leading fintech provider in Kenya, in addition to being a licensed full service MVNO. Coming from Kenya, Danson has an interesting message for the MVNO. They are leaving at least 42% of the revenue on the table. How so you may ask? Kenya’s leading telecom provider Safaricom derived 42% of its revenue from mobile money services last year. And Danson is happy to share his experience integrating fitechs with MNOs and to present the attendant business opportunities

Stephen Morony is the Chief Officer, Wholesale and MVNO. at Cell C, one of South Africa’s MNO while Gavin Reuben is the CEO at BluAdvance, a fintech company that focuses on Micro Financial services such as product advances, owned by Cell C’s parent company, Blue Label. Cell C was the first South African MNO to recognize MVNO business as a genuine business opportunity when they hosted the first MVNO in Africa, Virgin Mobile. Stephen will give us insights on how this vision was developed and how they are looking at innovation going forward. Gavin on the other hand will explain to the MVNOs about the opportunities that are available in microfinancing / pre financing of prepaid spend.

Kartik Mistry is a seasoned executive with experience in Financial Services, Telecoms, and Entrepreneurship. He is currently the Head of Standard Bank Connect, an MVNO owned by Africa’s largest bank by assets. He has a proven track record of building innovative, high-growth businesses, such as FNB Smart Devices, FNB Connect (MVNO), and Rain Telecoms. During his 9-year tenure at First National Bank (FNB), he became a generator, driver, and implementor of a number of major innovations at FNB, this included many firsts for any bank, e.g. launching a device strategy, building FNB’s own branded phone, and being a key team member that launched a Mobile Virtual Network. Kartik was also the Chief Operating Officer role at the startup telco and disruptor, Rain, for 3 years. In his entrepreneurial pursuits, he was the Chief Operating Officer and a founding member of Tesserae, a full-stack training data platform, whose objective is to leverage data annotation services to increase the adoption of AI in financial services, whilst serving to reduce youth unemployment through remote data labelling work opportunities. Tesserae received early stage funding from Standard Bank. He is also the Co-Founder of tech startup, Hamba, that uses Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and IoT to optimize traffic flow and aids in building Smart City & Routing applications. Kartik, will be bringing his previous experience as he aims to see revenue growth that is powered by AI and will be sharing his vision at the MVNO Nation Africa.

Malcolm Subramony is the Executive Head of Department, IoT Solution Development and Delivery, Enterprise Business Unit, Vodacom, South Africa. Naturally, one would associate Vodacom, the biggest telecommunications operator in Africa, with business as usual with regards to MVNOs. Malcolm will upend that premise with his talk of potential for IOT as delivery by a large traditional MNO and the attendant opportunities for MNVOs especially those with B2B focus.

It will be an interesting panel. Collectively, they will demonstrate that MVNO is not just a retail business selling minutes and Megabyte.

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