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Why Big Data Will Make or Break African MVNOs?

big data

In recent years, a limited number of MVNOs have managed to break into the African market. A number of reasons have been attributed to this, including the slower adoption of mobile and smartphone use and the lack of mobile infrastructure needed to provide this customer base with the services they need. This is all changing, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst that has given rise to opportunities for MVNOs to utilise big data in order to drive market growth in this region.  Below we examine why big data will either make or break African MVNOs and the challenges that significantly impact these operators in getting off the ground within this market.

history of big data

History of Big Data

Big data, in simple terms, is a combination of structured, semistructured, and unstructured data collected by organisations that can be mined for information. This big data is often used in data science by data analysts for machine learning projects, predictive modelling, and other advanced analytics applications to provide essential insight that can be utilised to grow and develop a business.

Traditional data collection, storage, and analysis were conducted manually, which, as you can imagine, would take up an immense amount of time to collect, sort, store and analyse. This all changed in the 20th Century when these processes went digital. An application of this new digital process was utilised during the Second World War, when the British Army needed to understand Nazi codes and built a 5,000-characters-a-second processing machine to decipher patterns contained in messages intercepted from the Germans.

Today the process is very different, thanks to digital transformation, the large amount of data  and the number of data sources that are available. Data sources today are being driven by several different technological advances which include artificial intelligence (AI), mobile devices, Google, social media (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and the Internet of Things (IoT). In simple terms, more and more data is now being collected from several more data sets and sources in real time. These sources include sensors, devices, video/audio, networks, log files, transactional applications, web, and social media.

This has meant that we have had to redefine big data to include the accelerating high-volume of data and information collected from several different data sources and assets which are stored in data warehouses and databases. 

Specifically, within the telecommunications industry, these data structures and sets are used to store customer information relating to demographics, locations, sales, and more. In this way, MVNOs can then utilise this big data to provide valuable insight into different aspects of their business. This significantly impacts decision-making, business models, and service offerings and provides insight into operational efficiency and ways to increase revenue and profitability.

landscape of African MVNOs and big data

The landscape of MVNOs in Africa and how big data technology is impacting this

Up until recently, MVNO penetration across Africa has been relatively slower than the rest of the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted this and created more opportunities for MVNOs to position themselves as competitors within this market. You may be asking how?

The simple answer is that mobile subscriber growth and smartphone adoption have increased significantly throughout the pandemic. According to GMSA’s Sub Saharan Mobile Economy Report for 2021, mobile networks have become a lifeline for people and businesses during this time, especially where the adoption of mobile services such as mobile data and mobile money are concerned. It is estimated that, across Sub-Saharan Africa, there will be 120 million new subscribers by 2025, taking the total number of subscribers to 615 million (50% of the region’s population).

Research by GSMA in the same report also suggests that between 2020 and 2025, 4G adoption in Sub-Saharan Africa will double to 28%, compared to a global average of 57%. Now you may be asking, what about 5G? Within this region, there are only seven commercial 5G networks in five markets. The 5G rollout across Africa will impact the future of this landscape, but at this current point in time, 4G is the focus.

This increased growth and adoption has created an opportunity for MVNOs to provide new digital solutions for small and large enterprises and customers. This is primarily because MVNOs have the flexibility, agility, connectivity, and competitive pricing to develop new value added solutions, innovative B2B, B2C, IoT applications, rich communication messaging, and offerings.

Not only can MVNOs get these to market quickly, but they can personalise and tailor these solutions to their customers’ unique demands, needs, and requirements. This opens up a new revenue stream for MVNOs and gives them a way to differentiate themselves within the market.

big data and African MVNOs

How will big data make or break African MVNOs?

As discussed above, MVNOs have an opportunity to tap into the needs of customers across Africa with digital solutions that fulfill those needs and requirements. The question is, how do you know what solutions to develop and deploy and what this market is looking for? The answer lies in big data.

Big data, when utilised correctly, will provide MVNOs with insight into the region, what the different markets are looking for, trends, what customer segments are buying if there are any issues impacting operational efficiency, and more. Armed with information, analytics, and insight, MVNOs can adapt their business models and create and develop specific and targeted cost-effective offerings that talk directly to their customers’ needs and requirements.

This will provide MVNOs with a blueprint to maximise customer retention, customer experience, and overall profitability. Some of the current trends we are seeing that have been driven by big data include MVNOs focusing on value-added services instead of price differentiation, the development of self-service portals to improve customer experience, and the adoption of connectivity and data management solutions.

As with all opportunities, MVNOs will need to navigate several challenges to segment themselves within this market. These include:

  • The decreasing average revenue per user (ARPU) for MVNOs – globally, there has been a decline in the average revenue per user which means that many are not spending what they used to, which could impact the success of a new solution.
  • Varying telecom regulations and compliance in emerging markets – not all markets within the region have the same regulations in place, which means you often need to adjust your services and offerings to specific markets, which adds complexity.
  • Below-average network connectivity – which often makes the rollout and smooth deployment of new innovative services and operations more difficult.

Even with the challenges mentioned above, there is still a significant opportunity for MVNOs to make their mark in this region, especially with the increasing number of mobile subscribers, technological advancements, and demand for connectivity.

big data empowering African MVNOs

How will big data empower the MVNOs of the future?

MVNOs will be able to utilise big data and advanced analytics to differentiate themselves within the market and position themselves as an asset to customers across the region. The insights derived from big data will be utilised in the following ways by MVNOs to gain a competitive edge:

  • Manage customer churn – Advanced Analytics and big data provide historical data on customers who have already churned as well as insight into their behaviours and reasons for the churn. By analysing the data related to this behaviour, you would be able to see if customer churn is related to the quality of service, network issues, social media trends, availability of better options, sudden price hikes, unresolved queries, and more. With this understanding, you can address the reasons for customer churn, enhance customer experience and prevent this in the future.  
  • Improve Customer Service Experience – providing an excellent customer experience is critical to reducing customer churn. Big data analytics will allow you to personalise offerings, marketing, and communication efforts to your customer base. The addition of self-service platforms will also allow customers to resolve queries, ask questions and find solutions to issues they are experiencing— each of these improves customer experience. 
  • Optimise marketing campaigns – the insight gained from big data and advanced analytics help businesses target the right customer base with the right product offerings, thereby enhancing profitability. These analytics allow businesses to determine customer responses and therefore improve targeting. 
  • Data monetisation – MVNOs can collect user data related to subscriber demographics, subscriber location, network usage, device details, application usage, currency and preferences. This insight can be used to create new revenue streams for MVNOs through advertising and marketing opportunities. MVNOs can offer businesses and third parties advertising opportunities that target specific customer segments. For example, MVNOs can sell the space at the bottom of a “Please Call Me” SMS and use this to bring in more revenue. 


Big data is set to continue to play a prominent role in helping MVNOs establish themselves as a competitive entity within the African telecommunications market. Now is the perfect time to break into this market, especially with the growth in mobile and smartphone adoption expected over the next few years. To be successful, MVNOs need to utilise the insights that big data provides to ensure that they are developing suitable business models, product offerings, and service solutions that talk to the customer segments within this unique market. For more on how big data can be used to drive profitability and revenue for MVNOs, take a look at the CDRlive white paper here.

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