Happy new year everyone, the earlybird projections say 2014 will be the year of “grande realisations” in Africa, don’t mind the #occupynigeria (legitimate) protests or the (useless) sawa/bami tribal mafia wars but do mind the first “grande realisation” we have on hand, Samuel Eto Telecom” (SETmobile), a new mobile phone operator in Cameroon.
Before I start, I want to say, I do praise the Samuel Eto’o initiative and in no way I’m I trying to be pessimistic, unsupportive or unconstructive, but I want to lay out the information I found from several sources, in an unbiased manner something most media haven’t done.
For starters SETmobile is not a traditional mobile operator, ART (Cameroon’s Telecommunication regulatory agency) states “The principal of activity of Eto’o Telecom SA will be the resell of traffic obtained in bulk through native mobile operators which are Camtel, MTN and Orange” and as Etamba puts down very well, they are simply “buyam-sellams” (a name given to the locals who buy stuff in bulk to resell), thus they are not same caliber operators like MTN, Orange or Camtel.
What SETmobile is as kasbig precised is an “MVNO” (Mobile Virtual Network Operator), for a dummy like me it means they will be no installation of physical infrastructure like towers or relay antennas, they will depend solely on an existing operator to function, to put in perspective MTN, Orange and Camtel are the ATT, T-mobile and Verizon type companies, SETMobile is more in the Cricket, Boost and Simple Mobile category, joining the more than 20 MVNOs in Cameroon, just like Yemba.
Is it bad news ? Hell no, let me tell you why. When I first came to the US, the first sim-card I got was from ATT, it cost me $60 + tax, for unlimited text and talk but no data, for data I would have had to cough up an extra $20, bringing my monthly bill to $80, so the following month being the poor student, I did my research and landed on Simple Mobile, their prices basically where far cheaper than ATT, for $40 I had unlimited text and talk and for $60 I had unlimited everything, so of course, I switched wagons immediately.
I started to love the simple and cheap nature of Simple Mobile, but as I came to discover later on, these guys were operating under T-mobile, basically saying if T-mobile went down, we would go down with them, something we nearly did with the ATT failed bid to buy T-mobile, but how do they get their prices so low.
Well its simple, by removing services they believe you don’t need and reducing data speeds just to name a few, I had my taste of those blocked services, e.g I couldn’t activate twitter sms because of the message blocking feature, I couldn’t activate paypal mobile for the same reason, same for gmail calendar notifications and a bunch of other services who need your number to send you stuff, but I was fine with all of that, $40 was a great deal and of course Simple Mobile was doing super well(financially) and even recently added more value to their $40 offer, its now an unlimited everything “take that ATT”
But I finally switched to T-mobile, primarily because I was offered a great deal by a T-mobile representative (no comment), but also because as a geek those services which Simple Mobile cut off, limited the experience of the mobile device I had, it was like driving a Lamborghini on the Maison Blanche road in Yaounde.
How does this translate for SETmobile, well expect them to do one thing; lower their prices, I expect them to be the lowest in the market, but don’t expect the quality of their network to be any better than the others, “you cant make gold out of mud” and they will be a number of catches too, given the fact they will have to depend on a native carrier, and what that carrier currently offers will translate to what the SETmobile will offer.
Also things you should expect with SETmobile is services like Twitter or Facebook text notifications may not work for a start, they may offer unlimited mobile data, but expect the speed to be 2kb/sec (I’m just exaggerating or not), they may be no Yello or Orange night.
In the end SETmobile will still give what you pay for, the ability to call and be called, depending on the carrier they stick with, they will carry the burden or blessings of that carrier, sources say it will be Camtel, which is not very encouraging for three reasons, first Camtel is a cdma carrier, meaning your phone which is probably gsm will not work with a SETmobile simcard, you will have to shop for a new one, secondly cdma phones are really not that pretty except for the CDMA iPhone 4, and thirdly Camtel’s uptime and customer support is the worst I’ve known ever, their monopoly of the market does give them preferential treatment yet they still manage to mess the thing(optic fiber).
But historically mvno have always been able to flourish in niche markets, because the is always a segment of any given population who is ready to pay lower prices and in a country like Cameroon where the average person lives on $1/ day, and the ARPU is $8 expect SETMobile to grow very fast, especially as they depend on the ultra popular head of the company “Papa Eto”, his russian Anzhi money and the expected cheap prices of their offer, though but what skeptics fear and wish to know is that the management team will be more than transparent and competent, because in this case what will count is the Execution not the popularity of the CEO, thus these are my humble recommendations to SETmobile.
1. Choose a carrier that will guarantee max uptime and easy to obtain handsets e.g MTN
5. Hire great talent and pay them well, the is nothing worse for a young company than underpaid employees, Ringo SA can tell you better.
6. Finally long-term they should work on biulding a standalone mobile network.
I will also advice anyone trying to cut down expenses to switch to SETmobile when they launch come Jan 21, I believe their motivations are filled with great intentions, they could revolutionize mobile telecommunications if the execute it right, the very same way Ringo did with Internet, but only time will tell.
In conclusion, for us dummies a real 4th mobile operator is still yet to come, and it seems the Indian Airtel may just be the one.
On that note you may go watch the SETmobile launching campaign video done with Xmaleya, Pit Bacardi. I hope they were paid with some of that russian Anhzi money.
Do you think SETmobile stands a chance against MTN and Orange Behemoths ? Let me know in the comments below.