OTT – Threat or opportunity for African Telcos?

This paper by Christoph Stork, Steve Esselaar and Chenai Chair, analyses the transition from the voice and SMS era of mobile telephony to the data-only era, and the strategies that operators have adopted during this transition phase. Key drivers for the transition are Over the Top services (OTTs). The paper uses quarterly prices for prepaid user baskets across 44 African countries and introduces an alternative tool to measure and compare top-up bundles. Prepaid voice, prepaid data and top-ups are analysed, to demonstrate the various strategies operators in Africa have adopted, in response to revenue loss caused by OTTs, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Skype. Case studies of dominant operators in South Africa, Kenya and Namibia are used to highlight which strategies have successfully defended or increased mobile operator revenues. The paper shows that embracing OTTs, and providing prepaid products that resemble flat-rate pricing (top-ups with limited validity), is the most successful strategy for mobile operators to retain revenues. The paper also shows how zero-rated OTTs can be used to gain market share for new entrants. We argue that regulators should resist the push for regulating OTTs, and instead facilitate the evolution to flat access pricing.


Telecommunication regulation
Mobile broadband
Over the top services
Mobile operators

Published in Telecommunications Policy.
Volume 41, Issues 7–8, August 2017, Pages 600-616

The full paper is only available for download for a short period here