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Telecoms specialists complete epic cross-Africa road trip

by Staff

A team of telecommunications specialists from Cellusys, a telecoms cybersecurity and consulting company based in London, has successfully completed an epic, five-year journey by road across Africa, arriving in Cape Town on Friday.

Their epic road trip began in 2019 at Mobile World Congress (MWC), the big telecoms industry event that is held annually in the Spanish seaside city of Barcelona.

The brainchild of company chairman Dawood Ghalaieny, the Cellusys team used the road trip to gain a better understanding of the operating environment that its clients, including MTN Group, must navigate as they strive to provide connectivity services to various parts of the continent.

“Africa is under a microscope because the market is developing very quickly. The global community recognises the opportunity, but the continent is also mysterious in some ways,” said Luanna Sena, solutions engineer at Cellusys, in an interview with TechCentral on Friday. “On this journey, we got to engage with different cultures, meet the people and observe the structural challenges that African [mobile] operators must contend with.”

The team of seven, who travelled in four Toyota Land Cruisers, was made up of solutions engineers, marketers, social media managers and a mechanic.

Sena – who is based in London but who is originally from Brazil – and her team were impressed by the level of connectivity they had throughout their journey, although they did note disparities in connectivity between different regions. “In some countries, we had 4G all the way through, others only had 3G, but there are some places where there is absolutely nothing,” she said.

Snowball effect

But improvements in infrastructure are evident. She and her team noted that wherever they went where there is road infrastructure, there is connectivity. This suggests that mobile operators are able to justify the business case for infrastructure roll-out on the back of investments made by other infrastructure players – a testament to the snowball effect that one type of investment can have in driving growth in another.

In the same vein, infrastructural investments by the mobile operators have created a platform for “over-the-top” (OTT) services. The most important of these for Africa, which the Cellulys team got first-hand experience of, are the mobile money services from the mobile operators.

Read: Bitcoin miners flood into Africa

“My colleagues used momo in a few countries. It is interesting because, even when we could not get cash, we could use momo to buy things. Some places didn’t have a card machine for us to tap, but we could still use momo, even in the most rural villages,” said Sena.

Sena said that mobile money is also available in Brazil, her home country, but it is not as widely used as she witnessed across Africa. But as connectivity levels on the continent improve, the gaps in the quality of other digital services critical to everyday living become more apparent.

Gorillas – and 2G connectivity – in the Congo jungle

“On one part of the journey, Google Maps said it would take 40 minutes to reach our destination; it took three or four hours. We had to drive really slowly, else we would have destroyed the cars. In some places, the locals had to come shake the cars out of the mud and give us a push because we got stuck,” said Sena. “After about five or six times of this, we learnt to listen to the locals and not follow the GPS.”

The Cellusys team got hands-on experience of the concept that to conduct business in Africa successfully is more easily done when local stakeholders are consulted and involved.

Speaking at a recent webinar about e-commerce in South Africa, Order Kasi CEO Leon Qwabe made a similar point regarding working in township communities, also noting how Google Maps data needs updating in certain areas.

Read: Mastercard deal brings card payments to MTN MoMo

Sena said that along the journey, the team encountered notable acts of charity and events that inspired awe. It was also a lot of fun, she said. In Ghana they launched a coding bootcamp for 75 youngsters; and in the Republic of Congo, the team enjoyed 2G connectivity in the middle of dense jungle while interacting with gorillas that were being rehabilitated for the wild. “The older [feature] phones had better connectivity than the newer fancy ones there.”

In all, the time spent traversing the continent and interacting with its people has given Sena and her team a more nuanced understanding of their work in relation to Africa, she said.  – © 2024 NewsCentral Media

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