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Internet For Africa, Olé!

After a rough start in 2004, satellite internet and electronic security company Global Telesat now services 16 African countries and boasts a $6 million annual turnover.

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While Spain faces a 23.6% unemployment rate and a forecasted 1.7% economic decline this year, Angola is the world’s fastest growing economy of the last decade, with an impressive 12% growth forecast for 2012. Ten years after the civil war (1975-2002), Angola has risen like a phoenix from the ashes.

Few could have predicted this. Ivan Pizarro (37), along with his brother, David (43), and José María Sánchez Soler (52) opted for Angola in the middle of Spain’s construction bubble. “People lived in a Peter Pan world, they spent crazy amounts of money. Our friends called us nuts when we left,” Ivan recalls.

Eight years later, Global Telesat has been named Most Innovative Company in Africa by Spanish newspaper El Mundo, while most of the Pizarros’ friends in Spain are struggling. “Do you see this pile here? All Spanish and Portuguese applications. Most of our Spanish friends have tried to get a job at Global Telesat. We’ve hired 10 of them.”

More than that, the European economic meltdown has been advantageous for Global Telesat. “We are able to recruit Europeans we didn’t have access to before. And all the European companies fleeing to Angola need the internet.”

Global Telesat’s history began in 2003. Its founders were commissioned to build a satellite cyber cafe for the Spanish soldiers in Iraq, which they did from their parents’ garage during the Christmas holidays. “The company that commissioned us then offered us a telecommunications license in Equatorial Guinea via José María, so we rushed to create Global Telesat and flew there,” Ivan says. They “escaped” after three days.

Instead, they decided to embark on a similar adventure in Angola. Off they went, with $10,000 among the three of them plus “two very cheap, old and tired second-hand jeeps”.

“José María and I managed to find a house in the city center, which was in a really bad state. It cost $2,500 a month and needed $50,000 worth of renovations,” Ivan says. Due to investment expenses, the three only managed to cover costs during the second year. “We almost went bankrupt twice. Luanda’s incredibly high cost of living was the toughest aspect of getting started.” For Sánchez Soler, finding the appropriate local partners in Angola was the number one difficulty, before “bureaucracy and a very slow business rhythm”.

The Pizarros and Sánchez Soler started out doing a bit of everything, including fixing and selling computers and VSATs (very small aperture terminals). They briefly ran an LED display business. “It was a rough time, in a tense environment. We knew nothing and no-one, lived without furniture and worked from our sitting room for almost two years, until we could afford our current office.”

Soon, Global Telesat embarked on one international high-profile satellite internet project after the other. It created the well-publicized, first continental satellite internet connection from Morocco to Europe via the Strait of Gibraltar in 2004; connected the Spanish army in Herat and Kabul to the world-wide web in 2006; and built satellite cyber cafes for soldiers in Libreville and Kinshasa during the UN supervision of the Congo elections in 2007.

Officially registering Global Telesat in Angola was not easy. Sanchez Soler and David bought an existing, but inactive debt-free, Angolan company in 2004. It had a so-called ‘alvara’ (permit), which allows you to import and export and is “a must for every company in Angola”. Ivan points to a huge pile of documents in the cupboard behind him. “Never start a company in Angola,” he says jokingly. “You need each one of those, and each requires 20 letters to a given ministry. It takes years to complete the whole process.”

Angola ranks 168 out of 182 countries on Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, but Ivan says Global Telesat won’t accept or pay bribes. “That has both disadvantages and advantages. We miss out on many business opportunities because of that, but at the same time, it secures lots of deals with the type of people we want to work with: embassies, NGOs and international companies and organizations.”

Judging from Global Telesat’s achievements, one might wonder exactly what opportunities it has missed out on. The company recently became the first in Angola to own a European teleport. It has the exclusive rights to RascomStar in Angola and owns RascomStar’s only European teleport. Global Telesat is also the only Angolan representative of MWEB and Israeli joint venture company SkyVision, one of the world’s leading satellite operators.

With around 50 employees, the majority of them Angolan, Global Telesat provides satellite internet and electronic security equipment to major clients, including the Cuban and Angolan governments; Angolan state oil company Sonangol; Interpol; the Angolan Immigration Service (SME); beer brands Cuca, Ekka and Nocal; Unicef; the Angolan armed forces (FAA); embassies; and international NGOs. Its annual turnover in 2011 was between $4 and $6 million. This year, it forecasts an $8 million turnover. Global Telesat has grown a steady 25% annually.

The fact that Multitel, MS Telecom, ITA and Dimension Data are Global Telesat’s main competitors is anything but a problem. “What makes doing business in Angolan telecommunications unique and fun is the fact that almost all of the competitors are friends. We even share houses sometimes,” Ivan says.

Ivan studied electro-technical engineering after specializing in telecommunications in Ireland. He accepted a job there at Dell and experienced the boom and burst of the dotcom bubble while at Dell. He then moved to Hewlett-Packard in Barcelona and various smaller IT companies before becoming project manager of Siemens Germany. For four years, he oversaw the implementation of GSM satellite stations in the Middle East, USA, China, Pakistan and Brazil. He also brings extensive satellite internet experience from some time as a political activist.

Originally a technical engineer with a telecommunica-tions specialization, David has seven years of electronic security experience at Digisoft in Spain.

Sánchez Soler studied piloting then physics in Granada. He worked as a salesman at Spain’s first private, commercial IT group, Centre de Càlcul de Sabadell, for eight years. At the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, and together with David, he developed software to feed 20,000 people a day on behalf of the company, Jomipsa. Next, as Jomipsa’s commercial director, he dealt with more than 50 countries, including Angola, until 2003. Jomipsa designed and manufactured combat food rations for armies.

After Angola’s civil war ended in 2002, the nature of doing business with Angola changed drastically. “But Jomipsa didn’t want to invest in Angola, so I jumped out and looked for partners. In December 2003, we founded food company SPA (Societdade de Produtos Alimentares, Lda.), which we closed after internal differences.” Global Telesat was next.

What makes Global Telesat stand out, as much as its breakthroughs, is its well of remarkable stories. One example is that of its first employees.

“Our guards were constantly being harassed by Jehovah’s Witnesses or Igreja Universal members,” Ivan says. “When I came back from work one day and caught them reading these pamphlets, I got angry. ‘If you’re bored,’ I said, ‘I’ll give you something interesting to read.’ I gave them books on telecommunications and IT, and they got excited. After work, we allowed them to sell satellite internet connections and electronic security products. They decided to copy the church guys and attack in couples, which worked. They were then hired by Global Telesat.”

One of these former guards specialized in satellite internet installations, one in sales and the other in electronic security. Two of them now own their own companies.

Global Telesat is trying to make a difference in Angola. “Among other projects, we have offered hundreds of professional courses for internet installers. We may soon get support from the Ministry of Education,” says Ivan.

Global Telesat consists of a satellite internet and an electronic security department. Ivan heads the internet branch; David the security branch. Sánchez Soler, the company’s CEO, lives in Spain. All three own equal shares. It is a structure that works.

Global Telesat’s satellites are located in a ring around the earth at a distance of 38,000km from the earth. From that position, they perform a 24-hour rotation around the globe.

Monthly corporate rates for Global Telesat’s satellite internet connections start at $300 and can reach upwards of $50,000. A once-off investment starts at $3,000. “After that, the price difference with a terrestrial is not that big,” Ivan says. “Satellite internet reaches any place in Angola, including its most deserted areas and oil rigs in the middle of the sea. This is the key advantage of satellite internet over fiber-optic internet.” And prices are going down, mainly because of Global Telesat’s access to Africa’s RascomStar satellite.

“Look!” Ivan says. He hands me his mobile phone, which shows moving images of Global Telesat’s office. “What you’re seeing is being recorded right now by our camera systems and broadcast over the satellite. A simple internet connection allows me to check my premises on my iPhone. “This is a killer in Angola, because people can monitor their business without being present, even from another continent.”

Adds David: “Since the war, Angolans feel the need for more safety. That includes electronic security, which is lacking.” Global Telesat also offers automatic fire detection and extinguishing equipment.

“We had two competitors in 2004, Infortel and AfriAlarm, but their prices were double what ours were. We’re not the biggest electronic security firm in Angola, but unlike our competitors, we operate professionally according to European quality standards. We offer the best equipment available. Our surveillance cameras’ definition, for example, is up to four times sharper than those of our competitors.”

Many of Global Telesat’s electronic security systems are used to prevent labor abstinence, for instance, through fingerprint controls. At the end of the month, the fingerprints are reviewed and registered and salaries are paid accordingly.

“Apart from equipment that could, in theory, be used for spying, we also offer anti-spying equipment such as mobile phone frequency blockers or tools that can localize hidden cameras,” David says.

The Pizarros and Sánchez Soler have never regretted setting foot in Angola. “Unlike Europe, rules and regulations are no major obstacle here,” David says. “You can truly set up your business according to your wishes. Plus, Angola is a country full of companies rich in financial resources.”

“After 27 years of war, Angola offers immense room for growth and so many opportunities,” Sánchez Soler agrees. “Competition is not as high as it is in Europe. We moved to Angola at a time when hardly anyone in Spain knew Angola. We bet on Angola, and we won.”

Technology

‘WFH’ here to stay?

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The home will be hub and flexible working the norm. The result? Renewed employee trust, wellness and cost savings, say more companies.

Even the words out-of-the-box seem out of date at a time when shipping containers are turning into ICU hospitals and arms firms are making ventilators and personal protective equipment.

If technology is being repurposed, so too homes and humans.

Over the last few months the world over, the pandemic-induced ‘new normal’ has seen homes turning into head offices, with the volatile economy forcing businesses to rethink long-term strategies in a work from home (WFH) environment that looks here to stay.

Even the big corporates say this could extend post-pandemic.

Barclays CEO Jes Staley said its staff will not revert fully to its pre-January work habits. “There will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy; the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past,” he said after the company reported its first quarter profits for 2020.

Internet giant Google said all staff are expected to work from home until 2021, according to a May 2020 report in Bloomberg. S,imilarly, Facebook will let staff work remotely through 2020. Twitter, on the other hand, announced a short while later it would let staff work from home “forever”.

Euromonitor International’s Global Consumer Trends 2020 report has highlighted areas that Covid-19 will have an impact for the year ahead. Some of these include multi-functional homes where, in the long-term, the home becomes the hub and businesses will adapt accordingly; private personalization, which will put privacy concerns on hold in the short term but will return in the long term; and inclusivity for all would see disabled communities benefitting from technology.

In South Africa, the government has stipulated five levels of lockdown dictating how businesses may be carried out, including which sectors can operate as levels change. This requires flexibility and being able to adapt from one week to the other.

Jordan Rittenberry, Edelman Africa CEO, says the company’s transition towards more flexible working policies has been sped up by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the process has been a success with renewed trust in employees.

“We believe that flexibility, particularly in the current environment, is a useful way for companies to treat their staff right and foster mutual trust,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. “The pandemic has required a rapid mind-set change as companies take on new responsibilities towards the people that work for them and employee wellness is the first port of call as we navigate these uncharted waters.

“Every crisis presents opportunities and new ways of doing things. The shift we are seeing now is one of those that could help to meaningfully improve employer-employee relationships if managed carefully.

“As more people work from home, we will naturally require less space over time and this will yield cost savings to the business that can be passed on to clients.

“Besides employee costs, real estate is our biggest expense,” he says. Pieter Bensch, Executive Vice President at Sage Middle East and Africa, has come to a similar conclusion. “We realized that we do not need as much office space going forward and working remotely using cloud technology tools has maintained productivity levels from our colleagues,” says Bensch to FORBES AFRICA.

“Our entire workforce began working remotely before lockdown and are in no rush to return until it is safe but have encouraged video calls so they can see each other.

“Our cloud accounting and payroll product sales have increased, which is a clear indication that our customers now understand the power and benefits of cloud solutions to maintain business continuity.”

The mental wellbeing of employees has also been top priority.  “All Sage colleagues received a free subscription to Headspace, a brilliant award-winning app and guide to everyday mindfulness,” adds Bensch. The company also formed a ‘[email protected]’ community for staff looking for peer support on how to adapt with differing family needs and challenges.

A Johannesburg-based agency called BetterWork that specializes in design thinking for human resources has been hosting weekly lunchtime Zoom calls since the beginning of lockdown in South Africa. Attendees include a mix of its professional network, members of The GoodWork Society and other members of the general public. Some of its takeaways have proven that WFH is more productive than working in the office, which cited minimal distractions and the extra hours gained from not having to sit in traffic. Additionally, introverts seem to be thriving and tend to feel more comfortable with contributions to teamwork. On the other hand, BetterWork says parents on the call have expressed being overwhelmed with not just their own work but also the additional responsibility of being teacher-guides to their children.

The company believes the home-office is now the responsibility of the employer where people-focused services such as tele-therapy, support for parents and social programs become an additional duty to ensure a healthy, productive team. It adds that an obvious benefit would be the compensation or subsidizing of laptops, stable internet connectivity, webcams, etc.

Palesa Sibeko, Co-founder of BetterWork, says offices are typically expertly assessed and constructed to suit an organization’s work activity needs, but the same is not true for the millions of homes that are now acting as places of work. “There is not a concerted effort to view home-work life more holistically, to identify the needs and address them to create environments conducive to doing great work.” BetterWork says it is currently looking into how to support organizations on this important mission.

– Nafisa Akabor

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Warning: COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps Could Be Turned Into Tools For Domestic Abuse

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If governments don’t focus on strong privacy protections in their COVID-19 contact tracking tools, it could exacerbate domestic abuse and endanger survivors, according to a warning from women’s support charities.

They’ve urged the U.K. government to include domestic abuse and violence against women and girls (VAWG) experts in the development of such initiatives.

Though the U.K. doesn’t yet have a widely available track and trace app, the charities – including Women’s Aid and Refuge – are already anxious enough about the current tracing program, where infected people are called up and asked to register themselves online as someone who has contracted COVID-19. They’re then asked to share details on people with whom they’ve been in contact so they too can be informed.

In a joint whitepaper, the nonprofits said they were anxious about contact tracing staff inadvertently leaking contact details of survivors to perpetrators. They also raised fears the program could be turned into a “tool for abuse.” 

“For example, perpetrators may make fraudulent claims that they have been in contact with survivors in order for them to be asked to self-isolate unnecessarily, and in these circumstances survivors will have no means to identify the perpetrator as the original source,” they warned. “Perpetrators or associates may also pose as contact tracing staff and make contact with victims [or] survivors requesting they self-isolate or requesting personal information.”

The paper also claims abusers are already using the coronavirus pandemic for “coercive control,” in some cases deliberately breathing, spitting and coughing in survivors’ faces. As Forbes previously reported, the sharing of child abuse material has also spiked during global COVID-19 lockdowns.

As for apps, the report warned they required location services to be switched on. “While the NHS app itself doesn’t collect location data, if a perpetrator has installed spyware onto a survivor’s phone or is able to hack into it, then turning on location services will expose their location.”

Problems with Palantir?

The charities also raised concerns about a number of companies who’d partnered with the U.K. on the contact tracing initiatives. They said Serco, which is handling recruiting for contact tracing staff, “has a significant track record of failings and human rights violations, including running a controversial women’s immigration detention centre where staff have been accused of sexual misconduct and involvement in unlawful evictions of asylum seekers.” Serco also recently had to apologize for leaking email addresses of contact tracer staff.

Serco denies that it has any kind of significant track record of failing and human rights violations and that the evictions to which the charities are referring were in Scotland and were ruled legal. It also said that in seven years there had been no substantiated complaints about any sexual wrongdoing at the Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, where reports had revealed allegations.

“We are proud to be supporting the government’s test and trace programme with our Tier 3 contact centre team working from pre-approved Public Health England scripts. This is important work and we would like to thank all our teams who have stepped forward. In just four week we mobilised many thousands of people, which is a huge achievement, and we are focussed on ensuring that all our people are able to support the government’s programme going forwards,” a Serco spokesperson said.

Palantir, the $20 billion big data crunching business, also raised an eyebrow. The company, which has secured millions of dollars in contracts to help health agencies manage the outbreak, has come in for criticism for assisting U.S. immigration authorities on finding and ejecting illegal aliens.

Palantir hadn’t responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.

UK’s delayed COVID-19 app

The charities’ warning comes as the U.K. announced its contact tracing app would be shifting to the Apple and Google models, which promise stronger privacy protections than the app being tested by the government. The main difference is in where user information goes. In the government’s app, anonymized phone IDs of both the infected person and the people they’ve been near are sent to a centralized server, which determines who to warn about possible COVID-19 infection. In the Apple and Google model, only the phone ID of the infected person is sent to a centralized database. The phone then downloads the database and decides where to send alerts. The latter means the government has access to far less data on people’s phones, pleasing some critics but aggravating the government.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said on Thursday that Apple’s restrictions on third-party apps’ use of Bluetooth may’ve been one reason the government’s own app wasn’t as successful as hoped. Bluetooth is being used to determine whether an infected person has been in close proximity with another person’s phone.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International cybersecurity researcher Claudio Guarnieri warned that global rollouts of contact tracing apps were a privacy “trash fire.” After analyzing 11 apps, he found many contained privacy shortcomings. So concerned was Norway that it suspended its tool.

Even with lockdowns easing, those who’re infected are still being advised to isolate. However,  the NHS guidance says that “the household isolation instruction as a result of Coronavirus (COVID-19) does not apply if you need to leave your home to escape domestic abuse.” That message may not have been amplified as much as it should’ve been.

Thomas Brewster, Forbes Staff, Cybersecurity

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Technology

Twitter Begins Asking Users To Actually Read Articles Before Sharing Them

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TOPLINE Twitter announced Wednesday that it will test a new feature that will prompt users to open up a link to an article before sharing it, which appears to be a move to further combat the spread of misinformation on the platform.

KEY FACTS

  • Some Twitter uses may be subject to a prompt to click on a link if they try to retweet without reading the article first, billed by Twitter as a feature “designed to empower healthy and informed public conversation.”
  • English speakers on Android devices will be the first to see the tests.Users will still have the ability to retweet a message without clicking the link first if they chose to tap through the prompt.
  • According to Twitter Support, an official company account, the platform will only check if a user has clicked the article link recently through Twitter, not elsewhere on the internet.
  • Twitter denied some skeptical users’ accusations that the platform is testing the feature to establish a revenue stream via click-through to outside websites, saying the platform is not testing ad products with the prompts.
  • Twitter Support told one user it would watch to see if reminding users to read an article before they share it leads to more informed discussion.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“It’s easy for links [and] articles to go viral on Twitter. This can be powerful but sometimes dangerous, especially if people haven’t read the content they’re spreading. This feature (on Android for now) encourages people to read a linked article prior to retweeting it,” Twitter product lead Kayvon Beykpour commented upon the announcement of the feature testing.

KEY BACKGROUND

The new prompt tests are the latest Twitter effort to curb the spread of misinformation on the platform. Twitter last month displayed fact-check tags on two of President Donald Trump’s tweets that featured misleading information regarding mail-in ballots and voter fraud. Twitter also rolled out testing for a new feature to allow users to limit who can reply to their tweets. The platform has faced criticism from both sides of the aisle in recent weeks, from conservatives over accusations of censorship and from the left for not doing enough to stifle misinformation.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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