What’s the future of the cellular industry

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When cellular services first hit the South African market 21 years ago, it was all about chasing new connections. The race was on to sign up as many subscribers as possible. Today, that race is run and the telecommunications industry, if it wants a future, has to look at innovating its brands as never before. What could that look like on the mobile landscape? By Eleanor Potter, consumer executive at Altech Autopage.


Today, it’s all about understanding what the customer wants and adapting accordingly – before they go somewhere else. The name of the game is diversifying revenue streams and products that use data.

Modern technology has opened the doors that telecoms in South Africa needs in order to grow. Worldwide telecoms operators don’t only do mobile and ICT – they offer video on demand, drop boxes, mail boxes, websites – a whole palette of technology solutions on their web pages.

Virtual smartphone
Virtual smartphone

Another golden opportunity is digital wallet services, such as eWallet, which offer the user a completely secure way of transferring money to anyone else who has the same service, as well as buying electricity, travel vouchers and so much more. “With a banking system among the most advanced in the world available in South Africa and many people being without fixed bank accounts, this is a massive market for telecoms,” adds Potter.

A recent example of the clever use of mobile technology saw Google Maps teaming up with WeChat, a popular online radio show, and a telecoms provider, with the aim of offering work to unemployed people. Participants had to answer an ad on the radio show’s website, where they could also check out which areas needed geocoding (conversion of conventional physical addresses into geographical coordinates). They then hit the road armed only with their mobile phone camera. No skills were required, just a mobile device loaded with data and a mobile digital wallet into which their pay was transferred when the job was done. This all, of course, also generated income for the telecoms provider who sold the data.

Just a quick look at one of several overseas telecoms providers’ websites will show a wide range of offerings, from the usual phones, tablets and gadgets to television/video, home security and vehicle tracking to name just a few. And then there are the loyalty programmes that even allow you to book airline tickets, generating a path of business that ultimately sees the mobile operator getting back a percentage.

If telecoms operators don’t start to diversify their revenue streams, they are simply a ‘dumb pipe’ (an industry term for an operator’s network only used to transfer bytes between the customer’s device and the internet).

In order to make sure customers use more data, you have to look at providing services like Netflix, which means you hire a movie and download it through your telecoms provider. This means buying a lot more data. Then, there’s online security and camera services, where you can put cameras into your home or offices and connected to your mobile device to give you 24/7 viewing, as well as vehicle tracking devices that require SIM cards. These all use enormous amounts of data and should be offered as data bundles.

The problem for most South Africans, however, is the lack of infrastructure supporting high-speed internet, as well as the provision of fibre. If you’re fortunate enough to live in an area or a complex that’s had fibre laid or built in from scratch, the world of connectivity is your oyster.

New housing developments, such as golfing estates with up to 1 000 residents, not only lay fibre before building, they also offer residents little choice when it comes to using it. From allowing guests entry through codes sent to their mobiles to booking golf tee-off times, dining at the clubhouse, shopping and accessing Wi-Fi, everything is done through the housing development’s own portal, linked to a telecoms supplier.

There are so many innovative ways of utilising the telecoms industry’s infrastructure. The days of chasing new connections are over. It’s about being smart in a constructive way.

Email TechFinancials.co.za at editor@techfinancials.co.za

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