Techno-optimists dreamt of technology convergence in the early 90s when digitalization would erase the lines between traditional mode of communication to bring all content whether audio, video or text storable in the same format and delivered through a wide variety of technologies including computers, mobile phones, televisions and other devices. That dream is now a solid reality in the 20s. Welcome to the age of convergence where you make flight booking via your mobile phones and pay for the same service via an SMS or Internet window that connects to your bank account.
The distinct walls of IT, telecoms, media and consumer electronics industries have collapsed to create one large ‘converged’ industry as technology analyst Kate Wild predicted in 2006 when convergence was beginning to gather momentum across countries. Now in Nigeria’s mobile phone market of over 90 million subscribers, digital satellite pay TV company, MultiChoice DSTV is already offering digital television broadcast on mobile devices including iPod Touch, the iPhone, iPad, notebooks and other smartphones via its DSTV Mobile network coverage in several cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Onitsha, Asaba, Benin City, Kaduna and Enugu. Channels Television, a terrestrial TV broadcast company is already delivering its news services through converged media windows including Ipod, Blackberry and tablets.
In the financial sector, virtually all the services financial houses can offer have converged through integrated platforms to provide a one-stop transaction window for customers. Thus, from the comfort of their homes or offices, customers can pay for utilities, hotel bookings, flight tickets and make orders from shopping or food centres. They can also confirm cheque payments, make huge transfer from bank to bank and effect salary payments in line with the new theme of ‘Cashless Lagos’ – a sub variant of the larger goal of ‘Cashless Nigeria’ by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the country’s regulatory authority.
Those who are not using these windows are either not aware of their immense benefits or are too technology shy to improve on their own efficiency. But the technology is available and convergence is already here to ease transactions and put more speed in the work processes. Anyone already conversant with Aero online early bookings will tell you of the convenience and huge savings that go with the entire process. I know of many Nigerians that make online bookings to cover their prospective and already scheduled trips in a six month circle to give them more than 60% savings on flying across Nigeria.
You cannot beat that deal. Unfortunately, only a few are still wise enough to take advantage of this window. The idea is you have to plan ahead to optimize the benefits. What many small companies in Lagos do is to book and pay for the tickets online ahead of scheduled or prospective business meetings in Abuja or Port Harcourt. As much as possible, the companies try to make their clients to commit to meetings on days already covered by booked tickets. Would convergence help to encourage the culture of planning ahead? You can bet an affirmative response on that.
The different sectors are about to explode with the opportunities that convergence brings. Some start-ups in Lagos are already setting to go on the business of selling music and movies online in a way that could erase the need to stock up all those loads and loads of CDs and DVDs in your homes. Music and video streaming allowing you to pay as you play or view is about to enter the industry courtesy of increased bandwidth into several homes. It may soon be goodbye to your own home theaters and DVD players in homes that want to be convergence compliant.
Everything is changing including the way regulators must relate with the industry. The launch of the mobile television services by MultiChoice DSTV using the Digital Video Broadcast – Handheld (“DVB-H”) technology standard thickens the argument for regulatory convergence in respect of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the regulatory authority for the broadcast industry and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), the telecom regulator. This much is stressed by the Director General of the NBC, Engr Yomi Bolarinwa: “Convergence is here and we cannot run away from it, much more so that technology that has converged keep on growing in leaps and bound, technology in communication today keeps on looking out for the best and the technology is based on digitalization and digitalization is based on conversion,”
The licensing of several mobile money operators by the CBN) is helping to reshape the relationship of the CBN and NCC in a market valued at over $2 billion (about N300 billion) that is bound to change service delivery in the financial market. Mobile payment or m-payment allows point-of-sale payment from a mobile device by individuals and corporate bodies goods and services and even to effect transfer of monetary instruments without physical interaction.
Much of corporate Nigeria has followed the convergence trail to deliver services to customers that have web or mobile access. Virtually all banks offer online or SMS-based banking services. In the top league are First Bank Plc, GTBank, UBA Plc and Fidelity Bank. Customers need not go to bank to confirm cheque payments to third parties. They only need a mouse click to make transfer from their account to another account even if the account is domiciled in another bank. In the aviation, not only Aero Contractors is on the convergence trail. Dana Airlines and other airlines have windows to allow online and SMS-driven flights booking and payments
Across West Africa, convergence is gathering steam helped by the connivance of increased bandwidth courtesy of the entry of several undersea cables and the growing number of smart mobile devices delivered by foreign and local hardware supplies such as rlg Communications in Ghana, Zinox and Omatek Computers in Nigeria. With the steady shift from narrow band to broadband, West Africa is poised to experience more trends in convergence even as the market gets more sophisticated across all sectors from health, education and the media among others.
Written by Segun Oruame, Editor, itedgenews.com