By Staff Writer

As competition heats up, South African mobile phone providers must branch into adjacent areas such as connected-home, smart-city and automotive sectors.

The local mobile providers – Vodacom, MTN, Cell C and Telkom – achieved good growth overall in 2017, following some tough years, including a particularly difficult 2015.

They achieved overall revenue growth, although growth in the average revenue per user slowed, due to new cheaper devices coming onto the market and legacy offerings encountering fierce competition.

“It’s vital that these providers move into adjacent areas that can produce synergies with existing access services,” says William Hahn, principal research analyst at global research firm Gartner.

“This will enable them to climb the value chain by offering related support, consulting, digital media content and more, either through direct acquisitions or partnerships. The connected-home, smart-city and automotive sectors are expected to exhibit solid growth, but not every provider will be well-suited to them.”

Furthermore, Gartner said that the end-user spending on communications services in South Africa is forecast to total R122 billion in 2017, showing a marginal a 0.7% increase from 2016.

“The forecast growth rate is slight, mainly due to shifts to less expensive legacy service offerings as competition heats up,” says Hahn.

“It’s likely to remain fairly flat in 2018 as increased competition in the access services segment erodes prices as fast as, or faster than, adjacent market revenues replace it.”

The research firm added that growth in the Internet of Things promises a limited source of additional revenue for service providers, but ecosystems in areas such as automotive, manufacturing, healthcare and smart cities will require extensive expertise in professional services, consulting and support to deliver solid growth.

“Connectivity alone will become a commodity, just as with legacy subscribers,” says Gartner.

Mobile Spending Is Rising but Challenges Remain

End-user mobile data and voice spending is forecast to total R95.5 billion in 2017, reflecting a 1.2% rise from 2016 (see Table 1).

“Spending growth in this segment is slowing, mainly due to increased competition between the major providers as market penetration increases, as well as decreased emphasis on voice usage,” says Hahn.

In South Africa (just as in the global market), the decline in spending on voice services (5.7 per cent in 2017) offsets gains from an increase in data connections.

“Many users engage in substitute messaging, such as IM chat, and the predominance of prepaid billing can accelerate this trend,” says Hahn.

“As legacy pricing comes under increased pressure, communications providers must expand the range of devices offered to end users to win the churn battle, incentivising more data use with plans, value-added content and customer service.”

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