Mobile network operators need new revenue streams to safeguard their future. This is according to Upstream Deputy CEO, Kostas Kastanis.

Kastanis was speaking at the virtual NigeriaCom conference, which took place on the 29th September 2020.  NigeriaCom regularly brings together more than 650 executives and digital tech leaders to discuss the region’s digital economy.

Kastanis was participating in a panel discussion covering the future of Nigerian telecoms: exploring telco and MNO strategies to accelerate digital growth in the region. He began his presentation by commending and thanking MNOs for stepping up and working hard to keep people connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also emphasised his confidence in the importance of Nigerian telecoms market in the context of Africa’s digital growth, and the tremendous potential that mobile network operators have to drive change and close the digital gap.

With low penetration and prepaid connections dominating, Nigeria's mobile market itself is on a dynamic upward track, he said. According to data from the GSMA, out of 179 million connections, 96 percent are pre-paid, with only 7.7 percent of those 4G enabled. Market penetration is also less than 50 percent, with just over 102 million unique mobile subscribers out of a population of 206 million.

In markets like Nigeria, MNOs are uniquely positioned to help bridge the digital divide and bring more people online giving them an equal footing to achieve growth and prosperity”, Kastanis said.

He said Upstream is working with operators across the African continent to offer Zero-D, an online platform that allows MNOs to offer free, ad-funded access to key internet services when their users have run out of data.

The service aims to strike a balance between preserving mobile operator revenue and building brand loyalty, while also improving the “digital health” of the region by ensuring more people have access to basic internet services.

During the pandemic, he added, the local deployments of the free ad-funded platform proved crucial and afforded the African operators making it available to their customers increased brand loyalty, he said.

Generating revenues

Moving into discussing revenues, Kastanis highlighted how the pandemic has also forced a shift to digital, underpinned by the closure of physical stores and some call centers. With digital transactions becoming the new norm for consumers, MNOs need to look into ways to capitalize on this trend and digitize their portfolio, improve their customer reach, reduce churn and increase ARPU, he said.

Drawing from data, Kastanis told the virtual NigeriaCom attendees that the combined reach of mobile network operators in Nigeria, which is around 180 million, far exceeds that of Facebook, highlighting the immense potential in advertising when it comes to driving revenue for operators. “Mobile advertising is for the mobile industry- the VAS of tomorrow”, he said. “MNOs need to secure new sources of income to safeguard their future,”. He emphasised.

To eliminate fraud, protect their customers and revenues, and stay ahead of regulation, MNOs must always add a layer of security across their digital offerings, Kastanis also argued.

He added that Upstream currently addresses 1.2 billion mobile customers in high growth markets. He said that company provides MNOs with innovative solutions that help them achieve digital growth.

In Nigeria, Upstream has already gone live with Zero-D for Airtel, one of the top four mobile operators in Nigeria, as part of an “out of credit” product to help keep customers connected. Similar launches are also scheduled with 9Mobile and MTN, he said. Two Nigerian MNOs are already in advanced discussions about deploying Upstream’s security solution to safeguard their customers and protect their revenues from fraud.

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