Over 450 telecommunications professionals gathered in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for the opening of East Africa Com, the region's annual event for the telecommunications industry. The conference started with a keynote presentation from Bashar Arafeh, Celtel International's COO for the East Africa region, who was keen to point out that "East African markets, being currently under market average, hold plenty of room for growth."
He explained how Celtel is leveraging its regional presence and international ambitions to improve networks and offer innovative services, such as the pioneering 'one network' regional roaming plan. He highlighted the importance of a strong brand to take full advantage of market opportunities, and explained that the future move to Zain will help make the brand a fully global one rather than a pan-African group.
He was followed by Dietlof Mare, CEO of Vodacom Tanzania, who also described the great opportunities for telecommunications companies in Tanzania, thanks to political stability, high GDP growth (around 7%, higher than in the rest of Africa), and a penetration rate that is still increasing sharply.
On the other hand, he described the challenges faced by large operators in the rollout of their networks: lack of infrastructure, power issues, increasing fuel prices. Despite those challenges, he described what he thought were the key success factors for Vodacom's leadership in the market: building quality networks (including 3G/HSPA and WiMAX in the main cities for corporate custoemrs) and developing services that meet the customers' needs. As an example, he announced the launch of Vodafone's M-Pesa payment service (pioneered in Kenya by Safaricom) at the end of the month in Tanzania.
Many Tanzanians - like most of their neighbours in Kenya, especially in rural areas - have difficulty accessing conventional bank accounts and M-Pesa is seen as a convenient way to send money. Safaricom recently said that in the 11 months since it launched M-Pesa in March 2007, it had handled 9.3 billion Kenya shillings (US$147.9 million).
Vodacom Tanzania is 65%-owned by South Africa's Vodacom with the rest held by private Tanzanian investors.