Is there a big data opportunity in Africa? TA Telecom CEO and founder Amr Shady believes there’s a big one. Only 15 percent of Africans may have access to the internet on a PC, but there is a wealth of information to be mined from the mobile operators who effectively have a lock on data services on the continent, Shady said speaking at Gigaom’s Structure Data conference on Wednesday.
“To talk about big data in Africa we have to look at where the data is being is being created,” Shady said. 60 percent of internet traffic comes from mobile phones. Only a third of mobile users who generate that traffic have a mobile data connection. The rest are using basic voice and SMS services, he said.
If you sampled data from social media to try to understand consumer behavior or public opinion in Africa, you’ll most likely reach incorrect conclusions, Shady said. But by analyzing patterns in how consumers use mobile services, TA Telecom is able to glean much more accurate data about them. It in turn parses that data to target advertising and subscription content at specific consumer segments at the behest of its carrier customers.
Shady, however, said there are many more opportunities to put that carrier data to work. TA Telecom has invested in a startup that uses cell tower location data to measure vehicle traffic conditions on Africa’s roads, he said. Also, Shady believes that because of their close relationship to consumer data, mobile carriers will be the incubators for future entrepreneurs in Africa. Instead of the Microsoft or Apple Mafia, we’ll see a Safaricom or a Vodacom Mafia create the next generation of data startups.Photo by Jakub Mosur