The increasing maturity of most mobile markets in West Africa has intensified the competition for subscribers, compelling operators to innovate and differentiate in terms of service delivery and provide additional non-traditional telco services.
The launch of digital services (such as financial services, ecommerce, and digital media) is one such strategy for creating differentiation within this ultracompetitive landscape, but global ICT consulting services firm International Data Corporation (IDC) is also keen to stress the importance of connectivity in facilitating seamless access to these innovations.

Oluwole Babatope, a research analyst for telecommunications and digital media at IDC West Africa, believes that in order to fully maximise the digital service opportunity, mobile operators must also provide improved connectivity alongside these new data-hungry offerings.

“Mobile financial services, online transactions on ecommerce sites, video on demand, video streaming, music streaming, and mobile gaming are all realtime services that require the least amount of latency possible between data packets,” says Babatope. “As such, operators must strive to improve the quality of their network connectivity if they are to ensure a positive customer experience.”

IDC believes that telecommunications regulatory bodies also have a part to play as they need to pay the same attention to the quality of service (QoS) for mobile data as they do to the QoS for mobile voice.

“The majority of regulators across the region do not track key performance indicators (KPIs) for data services, and the few regulators that do track data KPIs do it inconsistently when compared with voice,” says Babatope. “The regular checking of QoS for data services, together with appropriate sanctions for underperforming operators, would help to ensure an overall improvement in connectivity across the region.”

IDC’s research also shows that piracy and poverty can be added to the list of inhibitors affecting the growth of digital media in West Africa. “Poverty is one of the two major drivers of piracy in the region (the other being poor data connectivity) and the Achilles heel of anti-piracy campaigns,” says Babatope.

“The lack of sufficient funds for daily living has compelled over 70% of West Africa’s population to prioritise the basic needs of existence above all others, with access to digital content understandably viewed as a luxury.

“Until poverty diminishes across the region or until legal content providers and their partners explore more affordable avenues for providing their services, delivering strong growth in the West African digital media market will remain a considerable challenge,” Babatope adds.

“Individual governments across the region also need to take a firm stand against the illegal distribution of intellectual property, with heavy sanctions implemented and enforced to deter pirates and their distribution networks. A message of zero tolerance to piracy needs to be reiterated across the region.”

Despite the clear challenges that exist, IDC expects to see growth in the West African digital services market over the coming years, particularly in the more matured markets of Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, and Cote d’Ivoire.

Mobile operators in these countries are expected to take the lead in maximising the opportunities available, with successful implementations in these countries expected to drive adoption in other markets. It is essential that broadband penetration increases and quality of service drastically improves as the growth of digital services to a large extent hinges on the availability of excellent, high-speed data connectivity.