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Cabinet orders move towards digital television

The South African cabinet has ordered the country to proceed into the digital television era with set top boxes (STBs) that have a control mechanism.

Details are scanty but yesterday’s announcement signals that the disagreement over the design of STBs has been resolved. The disagreement as to whether the STBs must have a control mechanism or not has delayed South Africa’s process of migrating into digital terrestrial television (DTT) by about three years.

Cabinet announced yesterday that it has “approved the Broadcasting Digital Migration Amendment Policy with the inclusion of the control system in the STB, which will be clearly defined when the policy is published.”

The cabinet announcement was followed up by a briefing conducted by the minister of communication, Faith Muthambi. She said the system in the STBs was designed to protect government’s investment in STBs. Government is set to subsidise low income earners to acquire the STBs to the tune of more than R3 billion. About five million households are expected to benefit from this subsidy.

The idea is to have the STBs manufactured in South Africa. Muthambi said the control system will ensure that the STB’s cannot be used outside the boundaries of South Africa. This also ensures that STBs manufactured outside the country do t make arrangement to move the country towards a switch over into digital television.

She said once it is all systems go, “we will be able to go to Cabinet and announce the switch-off date.”

In reaction, MultiChoice which has led the objection against the control mechanism said it “has noted the announcement by Cabinet today on the Broadcasting Digital Migration Amendment Policy.

“We welcome the clarification by the Minister of Communications, Faith Muthambi, at today’s post-Cabinet media briefing that the control system in set-top boxes will be a security feature only, and will not include conditional access or encryption. We await publication of the final policy.”

This piece was first published in ujuh.co.za whose publishers can be reached at news@ujuh.co.za

Email: editor@techfinancials.co.za

BCX unit buys Joint Venture Pumps Services

By Staff writer

UCS Technology Services (UCS TS), which offers the supply, installation and support of solutions to over 1 450 service stations in Southern Africa, announced on Friday it has bought 100% of the shares of Joint Venture Pumps Services (JVPS), effective 1 March 2015. UCS TS is a wholly owned subsidiary Business Connexion, which is being bought by Telkom.

“This merger provides us with a unique opportunity to extend the value that we can offer to fuel retailers. We can now deliver an end-to-end service from the fuel tank, through to Head Office,” said Saul Gorin, CEO of UCS TS.

JVPS is an industry leader in product supply and support to the petroleum industry in Southern Africa, and the acquisition allows UCS TS to provide a unique market offering through a single entity for fuel retail services.

JVPS’ comprehensive portfolio includes; fuel dispensing equipment, a range of forecourt automation equipment including automated tank gauging and forecourt controllers and an environmental management solution for the forecourt. These are all elements that allow UCS TS to provide leading technology capable of enabling the Internet of Things (IoT).

Through extended data collection, smart networking, micro-electronics, predictive analytics, environmental management and an attendant tagging Business Connexion will leverage its Big Data competency that will be beneficial to the consumer of the future and will transform the petroleum industry accordingly.

“This acquisition of an adjacent industry business with sensor and controller technologies capable of rich integration with core information technologies, is in line with the Group’s strategy as the leading enabler of the IoT. Many industries will be transformed through the impact of IoT of which the Retail Petroleum industry is one such example.” said Isaac Mophatlane, Business Connexion Chief Executive Officer.

As a result of this acquisition, UCS TS will be able to draw on an employee base of over 200 fuel automation professionals, with sought-after skills and experience in this highly technical and regulated industry.

“This convergence between the forecourt and convenience store not only makes management of the total service easier for the staff, it provides the consumer a single transaction through the point of sale across many services on any device. Fleet managers and motorists will have smarter service stations with an ability to accept various payment methods, enable value added services (VAS) payments and support vouchers and coupons.” said Gorkin.

Saudi Oger may sell Cell C – Reuters

By Staff writer

Saudi Oger Telecom may sell its strategic stake in South Africa’s third-biggest cellular opertaor, Cell C, the chairman of the Middle Eastern firm told Reuters on Thursday in an interview in Dubai.

“All options are open. If we get a good price, we will sell,” Hariri said, adding it had been approached by several interested parties but no firm decisions had been made. He declined to name the parties. For us, if we get a proper value, we’d rather not continue. If the termination rates were honoured as original, we would have stayed easily,” Mohammed Hariri, Chairman of Oger Telecom told Reuters in an interview in Dubai.

Last month, Cell C disclosed that in December it had lodged papers requesting the Gauteng High Court to review call termination regulations. Cell C was also quoted by Business Day as saying that it would “vigorously challenge” Vodacom’s planned R7bn acquisition of Neotel, and would pursue every legal avenue to stop the deal.

Furthermore, last month City Press published a report which places the spotlight firmly on Cell C’s financial health.

Saudi Telecom Company, which indirectly owns a significant stake in Cell C, has reportedly reduced its investment in the mobile operator by a whopping R1.2bn.

The newspaper also added that Reuters reported that Abdulaziz al-Sugair, Saudi Telecom Company’s chairperson, said the firm was “evaluating options” over its international portfolio.

But Cell C’s boss, Jose Dos Santos, insisted that his company is not about to go under. He told the newspaper that he was neither concerned about the Saudi Telecom chairperson’s remarks, nor about the impairment.

For more context on Cell C, please read:

Cell C in a fix over its sustainability

Hariri told Reuters that Goldman Sachs has been appointed by Oger Telecom to help with the process to sell the business.

Barloworld, Bidvest & WNS to ‘take over’ Telkom’s non-core assets

By Staff writer

Telkom, which is undergoing a series of interventions to fix the ailing business, is turning to outsourcing to cut fat in the company as part of its turnaround strategy and on Thursday named its partners to take over the running of the non-core assets. They include Barloworld Logistics, Bidvest and WNS.

The company has been engaging with organised labour on the outsourcing of various business elements, as announced in February.

Telkom revealed on Thursday that it has identified a series of actions to unlock further cost efficiencies and improve customer service, in line with the company’s multi-year turnaround strategy. One such action involves outsourcing certain assets as going concerns.

Telkom’s call centre operations and staff are to be outsourced, as well as certain legacy IT billing systems, an internal printing division and the network and operations and retail supply chain sections.

Telkom has completed a stringent procurement process and has identified WNS as its preferred partner to undertake Telkom’s fixed line call centre operations.

Telkom spokesperson, Jacqui O’Sullivan, said the outsourcing was a critical step in Telkom’s focus on the customer.

“To succeed, everyone at Telkom has to put the interests of the customer at the heart of everything we do. Our customers are the core of our business, but running call centres is not. We know that customers will benefit from a focused and consistent service that a professional call centre organisation can offer. For this reason, we are confident this is the correct action to take,” she said.

Similarly Barloworld Logistics has been identified to undertake the management of 25 Telkom warehouses in the supply chain area of the business.

It is proposed that the IT legacy systems will be managed by ASAJE. Bidvest has been identified to take over internal printing services, and Ingram Micro the supply chain in the retail area of the business.

The outsourcing will only affect 1 300 Telkom employees.

The company said it is committed to a fair, objective and transparent process involving organised labour.

Sipho Maseko, who was appointed in 2013 as Telkom boss, has been seeking ways to cut fat in the business, a necessary step as this bulge has drained its profitability for years and led to a number of executives being axed when they couldn’t rescue the business.

Since he was appointed, Maseko and his executives in Pretoria have been quietly plotting ways to cut Telkom’s costs and haul the company back into the black.

He hopes to save as much as R1bn every year through cost cutting, a move that will inevitably include layoffs. Over five years, this means Telkom could save R5bn — enough to regain its profitability, and provide shareholder value.

What is clear, however, is that the “painful steps” that Maseko is prepared to take will place him and the company on a collision course with the unions, and it could be quite a dramatic run-in.

However, the company on Thursday assured workers that retrenchments will be a last resort. “When Telkom initially embarked on its turnaround strategy, the Company stated that it would look at alternatives, such as joint ventures, to ensure that job losses would only be implemented as the last resort.”

Woolet: The slimmest smart wallet for the modern man

By Gugu Lourie

If you have ever wish that you can have a wallet that you will never lose. Help is on its way. A Kickstarter project called Woolet is planning to create a smart wallet that protects your valuable cash and cards in every situation.

Woolet is a next generation wallet that keeps your cash and cards safe. Ultra slim, bluetooth-powered, self-charging and handcrafted to perfection.

Woolet acts as your smart wallet sidekick. It looks out for your valuables so you can worry less, and focus on the important things instead.

The Kickstarter project was started early in February and the company behind Woolet is aiming to deliver the product in April after supporters of the project pledged $102,209 today, when it was only aiming for $15,000.

“It was worth spending so many days devising the concept, and searching for the best option to realize it. We closed Woolet’s Kickstarter first day by having 77% of the goal. After 1,5 days we accomplished our mission. And then, something magical happened. Woolet became the most popular project in the Technology section! You can only imagine how happy we’re when we saw it! Thank you for your incredible support! Our goal was $15,000. Now, we’ve got 808 backers, who pledged !! You give us so many smiles, joy and advices that we’re sure that we have to work hard, and do our best to make you satisfied,” the Woolet team said on Wednesday.

Slim and fully capable
Woolet is just 9.9mm thin, yet ready for anything. Unlike other smart wallets, Woolet is a ‘full wallet’. This means you don’t need to compromise on what you take. Woolet has 4 slots to accommodate all your cards. There is a large card slot for those bigger IDs (up to 70 x 100mm) and a hidden pocket. Woolet also comfortably fits larger banknotes, including euros and British pounds, so you’re ready for any country.

Just 9.9mm thin, yet packed with cutting-edge technology. Designed so you can live with less bulk.

Automatic alerts when lost or stolen
Left your wallet behind? Someone trying to steal it? With Woolet, you’ll immediately know. Your phone will ring the moment you are separated from Woolet. You can specify any distance between 20-85 feet (6-25m) to get automatic alerts.

Distance tracker to find Woolet
Misplaced Woolet somewhere nearby? Use the built-in distance tracker in the Woolet and your phone app. You’ll know how far away your Woolet is and if you’re getting closer. Accurate to within 0.4m. There’s no hiding your Woolet from you.

smartwallet

Crowd detection
If your Woolet is ever lost, you can activate the Woolet crowd detection network. With a simple press on your phone, every other Woolet user will start scanning for your lost Woolet. When they get within range, the GPS location is instantly updated to your phone.

Never lose your phone, too
Left your phone behind but have Woolet? Woolet itself will ring to let you know. Woolet has a built-in ringer so protection goes both ways when you step beyond the tether distance you set. No more leaving behind your smartphone.

RFID blocking sleeve
Prevent anyone reading your RFID-enabled cards to steal your cash or identity. Woolet’s card sleeve offers RFID-skimming protection by blocking out 100% of the signals. Walk without worrying about someone casually reading your card while walking by.

Woolet grew out of a shared passion for security, hardware and beautiful design. We are driven to give our most precious belongings the best high-tech security in beautiful, simple devices.

Woolet was founded by the co-founders of Sher.ly, the secure private cloud, Clime, inc., a smart devices to monitor your home, and VORM lab, a technology design lab.

 

Zazoo teams-up with Uber in SA

By Gugu Lourie

Zazoo, a new division of the JSE and Nasdaq-listed company Net1 UEPS Technologies Inc, has teamed up with UBER, the innovative smartphone technology that connects riders with drivers, in SA.

Zazoo’s VCpayTM mobile application enables people who do not own credit cards to create virtual MasterCards that can be used to pay for the UBER service.

VCpayTM is a mobile application that utilizes Net1’s patented Mobile Virtual Card (“MVC”) technology, which enables mobile devices to generate virtual MasterCard payment cards completely offline and without access to a mobile phone network. Users can activate VCpayTM by following a simple over-the-air registration process and linking the application to any number of funding options, from credit cards, to EFTs, to direct top-ups, cash and more.

The application allows users to generate anonymous, transaction specific virtual MasterCards that can be used for online purchases, or in brick-and-mortar retailers that accept manual Card Not Present (“CNP”) payments – and now they can use it to register and pay for trips on the UBER application.

“Though mobile users and e-commerce adoption is rising in South Africa, there is still a large number of South Africans who do not have access to a credit card to enable them to make online and in-app purchases. Younger people, such as students, are a part of this demographic. We are excited to partner with UBER to introduce our products to this group. The uptake out of our first activation at WITS University has been hugely encouraging and we are planning more events where we will team with UBER to bring our products directly to our clients,” says Philip Belamant, Managing Director of ZAZOO.

“Uber is excited to be partnering with ZAZOO and VCpayTM. Their system complements UBER seamlessly and it opens up our technology to a new group of clients, who without a credit card or debit card would not otherwise have been able to use UBER,” says Alon Lits, General Manager of UBER Johannesburg. “This partnership makes UBER more accessible than ever before.”

VCpayTM is the first solution of its kind in South Africa as it is truly interoperable and does not require merchants to change the way in which payments are accepted online or via mobile applications like UBER. It bridges the electronic payment requirement gap for online or in-application payments by providing an immediate, safe and secure payment solution to anybody, regardless of their banking status.

Zazoo believes that its VCpay card cannot be cloned or compromised. A cardholder generates a MVC offline and no one else can access it until the transaction is complete. The offline capability prevents card skimmers from accessing card details through conventional backend systems.

With an MVC network, coverage or signal is not an issue as the process of creating a card can be completed offline. As part of the safety of the app, the MVC card can be configured to expire immediately after the transaction. This banking suite operates on any type of mobile device and allows for a multitude of funding options and payment services.

Mobile data, competitive pricing lift MTN Group profits

By Gugu Lourie

MTN, Africa and Middle East’s largest mobile operator, overcame stiff competition and sharp decline in the oil price that impacted its large assets to post a 8.9% rise in 2014 full-year headline earnings per share (South Africa’s main profit gauge), boosted by a surge in mobile data growth.

The company, which is valued at more than R385 billion, said headline earnings per share rose 8.9% to 1 536 cents per share in the year to end-December 2014.

“The group continued to benefit from encouraging growth in non-voice revenue, driven by various data initiatives (including the Mobile Money offering) across key markets,” the company said on Wednesday.

MTN, which operates mobile phone networks in more than 20 countries, is fighting to keep market share from competitors such as India’s Bharti Airtel, British-based Vodafone, Millicom and Vodacom and overt-the-top players, which are fighting for a bigger slice of the telecoms market.

MTN has enough cash to pursue its digital strategy and compete aggressively with its rivals. By the end of the year, MTN was sitting on a R43 billion cash pile that could come in handy to develop new products and services to retain and attract new customers.

The company, which has put a ‘break’ on its expansion by acqusitions, said its total users grew 7,5% to 223,4 million.

MTN Group paid R20.5 billion dividend payout to shareholders during the year and as a result reported a net debt of R4.5 billion at the end of 2014 versus net debt of R352 million in 2013.

MTN continues to return a large chunks of money to its shareholders, as it fails to conclude a big-ticket acquisitions in Africa and elsewhere.

Seeking to create more shareholder value, MTN management under its boss Sifiso Dabengwa, will continue to evaluate shareholder returns through progressive dividend policy of growing dividends by between 5% and 15% a year, as well as buying back shares on an opportunistic basis.

MTN Group reported a 6.4% rise in revenue to R146 billion, due strong performance of its Nigerian operation that posted a 12.1% rise in revenues.

As MTN and its rival continue to diversify their revenue streams, the company said data services remain the key driver of the it’s revenue growth and increased their contribution by 3,8 percentage points to 18,7% of total revenue in 2014.

In 2014, the number of MTN Group data users rose by 22,8% to 101,2 million as it expanded its 3G and LTE networks and stimulated the adoption and usage of data-enabled devices and smartphones.

At the end of December, MTN Group had 51,9 million 3G-enabled devices on its network, an increase of 30,4% on the previous year

“We remain committed to creating a distinct customer experience through increasing our 3G and LTE coverage and improving network quality and capacity. This is of particular importance in South Africa where we will be extending our capex programme significantly,” the company said.

“To drive long-term sustainable growth across the Group, we will increase data revenue by encouraging uptake through increased smartphone penetration, competitive pricing, bundled services and increased speeds.”
International operations

In Iran, MTN saw its customers rise by 6,2% to 43,9 million and total revenue increased by 14,3%.

The company said the Iranian operation was awarded a 3G and LTE licence in August, which significantly enhanced data revenue in the fourth quarter.

MTN Irancell now has 17,3 million active smartphones on its network and 15,1 million data users.

In Nigeria, MTN grew its subscribers by 5,5% to 59,9 million. The number of smartphones on the network increased by 51,2% to 9,3 million at the end of
December.

But MTN was concerned about some level of uncertainty in Nigeria with regards to the implications of the oil price and currency fluctuations, which may lead to slower economic growth. “This may result in some headwinds for the business in 2015,” the company said.

In South Africa, MTN said it expect to build on the positive momentum gained on revenue and subscriber additions in the second half of 2014. “The South African operation will also accelerate its immediate capex plans to support our medium-term growth prospects, particularly in the data area.”

In Syria, MTN has paid SYP25 billion for initial freehold 20-year licence which was acquired from January 2015 after it converted its build, operate and transfer licence. This was funded through MTN’s cash balances in Syria.

MTN’s footprint spans 22 countries across Africa and the Middle East, a far more extensive footprint than any of its rivals.

MTN SA ‘turns’ the corner

By Gugu Lourie

What a festive season quarter has it been for MTN SA’s performance? The second half of the year, which includes the busy festive months, was stronger, pushing MTN’s fourth quarter up 28.1% quarter on quarter. The company, which has been facing stiff competition and regulatory pressure, claims it has finally turn the corner despite revenues dropping by 3.9%.

The company said it ‘delivered clear evidence of a turnaround’ in the second half of 2014.

As a result, MTN today announced that it has activated 2.7m new customers on its network in the second half of 2014 versus the 430, 496 net disconnections in the first half of the year. This pushed up prepaid users by 9.1% to 22.6m customers in 2014. The company said the post-paid segment delivered a significantly improved performance, reporting net subscriber additions of 414 251 for the year.

MTN SA, which is the second-largest mobile operator in the country, also reported that its total customers rose by 8.9% to 28m. “This was largely a result of segmented offerings based on usage, limited duration on-net promotions such as WOW and below-the-line advertising campaigns in the pre-paid segment,” the company said.

MTN and its rivals such as Vodacom, Millicom, Airtel Africa and Vodafone are seeking to redefine their role in the digital era as voice telephony revenues dwindles. They are focusing on providing digital lifestyle services such digital entertainment (MTN FrontRow video-on-demand), digital banks (MTN Mobile money), and my web: delivering services such as online shopping (Zando) and locate services, etc.

By year-end, MTN SA data revenue contributed 23,8% of total revenue from 21,4% in 2013.

MTN said while data revenue only rose 7% there was a meaningful improvement in the fourth quarter with mobile data revenue growth of 17% when compared to the same period last year. Fourth quarter 2014 on third quarter 2014 mobile data revenue growth was 42, 3%.

However, MTN SA reported a 3.9% decline in revenues to R39 billion due to a 36% drop in interconnect revenue due to lower mobile termination rates (MTRs).

The company said it continues to focus on improving profitability throughout the business and on various cost efficiencies, including managed services and optimising the distribution network.

MTN SA’s capex for the period of R5.6 billion was slightly lower than budget due to improved procurement
processes.

During the year, MTN added 520 new 2G sites and 904 3G sites. The company said 3G population coverage improved to 87%. As a result of improved performance in the second half (with voice traffic volumes up 31,0% year on year and growing demand for data), we will increase capex significantly in 2015.

“This will be focused on improving the quality and capacity of the 2G and 3G network and rolling out LTE,” said MTN SA.

MTN SA smartphones rose 17.8% to 5.9m in 2014

By Gugu Lourie

MTN announced its 2014 full year earnings today and revealed that smartphones in its network rose by 17.8% to 5.9m in the period.

MTN, SA’s second largest mobile phone operator, added that the number of data customers jumped 201% to 17.1m.

“To drive long-term sustainable growth across the Group, we will increase data revenue by encouraging uptake through increased smartphone penetration, competitive pricing, bundled services and increased speeds,” the company said on Wednesday.

MTN and Vodacom are bringing out their own-branded devices, including tablets and smartphones, as part of their ambitious plans to accelerate Internet uptake in SA and diversify their revenue from dwindling voice turnover.

In January 2014, MTN started retailing its own-branded Steppa 1, which has become the second-biggest selling smartphone in SA ahead of Vodacom’s Smart Kicka.

Furthermore, MTN customers are able since 2013 to access long-term evolution (LTE) over an extended South African footprint, offering faster broadband speeds and a better Internet experience. But the company didn’t disclose how many LTE-capable devices were sold to its subscribers.

Time to dump passwords for good?

By Martin Walshaw, senior engineer at F5 Networks

It’s conceivable that one day biometrics may replace passwords completely, across many different services

The more news that trickled in about last year’s Sony hack, the more depressing the situation appeared to get. At one point, it was revealed that the entertainment giant was keeping passwords to internal systems as well as social network accounts in plain text. Not only that, but they were kept in a folder called ‘Password’.

Here’s how Buzzfeed described it: “Included in the newest data dump is a file directory titled ‘Password’, which includes 139 Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, zip files and PDFs containing thousands of passwords to Sony Pictures’ internal computers, social media accounts and web services accounts. Most of the files are plainly labelled with titles like ‘password list.xls’ or ‘YouTube login passwords.xlsx’.”

For anyone with a passing interest in security, which really should be all of us, that is a pretty shocking thing to read. Basic security advice is to try to avoid writing passwords down, and particularly to avoid keeping them somewhere so easily identifiable. Avoiding easy-to-guess words, such as anything from the dictionary, is also good advice, as is never repeating passwords; make sure each one is unique to that service.

But while passwords remain the primary way to access so many services, all of that is easier said than done. And so maybe that is what needs to change. Maybe it’s time to get rid of passwords for good. Are they fit for purpose these days? Many would argue they are not. They can be hacked, they can be guessed, they can be forgotten.

For those still wedded to passwords, using a password manager can help, as can using two-factor authentication where it’s available.

But the industry is beginning to offer alternatives to passwords. The launch of Apple’s TouchID has brought fingerprint recognition technology to a wider audience, and as we know, where Apple leads the rest of the industry tends to follow: Samsung and HTC have both released devices with fingerprint scanners.

Biometrics such as TouchID or eye scanners are a good alternative and the technology is becoming more convenient and easier to use (which is key for widespread adoption). Someone looking over your shoulder can copy your password; they cannot copy your fingerprint.

At the moment, Apple’s TouchID can be used to unlock iPhones and iPads and make purchases from Apple’s online stores such as the AppStore and iTunes as well as its Apple Pay NFC technology. But it’s conceivable that one day biometrics may replace passwords completely, across many different services.

It’s not just mobile apps that could benefit from biometrics. Imagine accessing work emails – or any other work-related application – on your home PC and, instead of entering a password on your computer, you authenticate yourself via a fingerprint reader on your mobile device that is connected to your office back-end systems.

But those days are not here just yet, so maybe it isn’t time to dump passwords. As well as following the advice above, it is wise to make sure passwords are just one layer in the security infrastructure.

This involves adding more context to security. Instead of just using a password for authentication, businesses can look at the device being used and its location, what the user is attempting to access and other details to give a clearer picture of the authentication request. Context in security is something we’ve talked about recently, in fact.

So it seems to me that we are moving beyond passwords as the primary method of authentication. But they will be around for a while yet; at least until the alternatives become more convenient. Until the industry does standardise on a replacement, it is wise to ensure that passwords are just one layer of your security infrastructure.