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African LTE operator “could happily prioritise Skype traffic”

Smile is happy to support OTT services like Skype, which other operators consider potentially damaging

A greenfield LTE operator that has launched networks this year in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda would “happily prioritise Skype traffic” over standards-based voice services if that is what the market demanded, its chief operating officer has told Telecoms.com. Tom Allen, COO at Smile, which is taking a disruptive approach to LTE services on the continent, said the firm has not taken the decision to prioritise Skype but that it would “look at it seriously” depending on customer demand.

With no legacy networks—and VoLTE some distance away and likely to be hugely expensive for most African users in terms of device costs—Smile users currently rely on OTT services for voice communications. And while Allen said that he was “certain” that VoLTE handsets would be part of the firm’s offering at some point in the future, he stressed the firm’s willingness to consider strategies that are the “complete opposite” of what an incumbent operator might do.

“We don’t mind OTT services,” he said. “We sell megabytes, that’s the primary reference point for us. We don’t care when you use it and you can do what you want with it.” Incumbent operators with “a market to protect and a 3G investment to protect” lack the freedom to be so flexible, he added.

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Despite extremely high levels of competition in some African markets, not least in Nigeria where Smile first launched, Allen suggested that LTE should be used by regulators to introduce new entrants. “If you give this spectrum to incumbents they’re likely to only do bits and pieces because they’ve got a lot to protect. You need a new entrant to stimulate and break the market and force the pace of change.”

Smile has plans to enter more African markets and is currently lobbying the South African regulator to consider a greenfield LTE opportunity, as well as speaking less officially with other regulators in the region. “It makes a lot of sense in our heads for regulators to bring in new entrants. Whether or not it makes sense for the regulators we don’t yet know. But when we break the [established] model and prove we’re right then I think it will open the doors to lots of new entrants in [African] LTE,” Allen said.

To read the full interview with Tom Allen, click here.

Tom Allen is speaking at the AfricaCom 2013 event at CTICC, Cape Town, 12 – 14 November 2013

 


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