Everything you need to know about connecting abroad

With the December holidays only a few weeks away, many executives, business owners and entrepreneurs will be planning to take their work away with them. Few people can afford to completely disconnect from the office, particularly at a time when businesses of all sizes and across sectors are under pressure.

For those travelling abroad, however, staying connected can quickly become a costly – and often complex – exercise. Some travellers opt for local SIM cards, others rely on public and hotel Wi-Fi, and most are unaware of the security and cost implications of each option. So what is the best approach?
execMobile founder Craig Lowe
Craig Lowe, founder of execMobile, which provides products and solutions for mobile connectivity, answers some common (and important) questions around staying connected abroad… Q: Can’t I just rely on Hotel Wi-Fi? Preferably not…we don’t view this as a smart strategy. Most people believe that hotel Wi-Fi is more secure than public Wi-Fi, but this is simply not the case. Both options put you at similar risk. The recent “Dark room” revelations from Kaspersky Lab revealed that hotel Wi-Fi hacking has been rife for the past four years, and is highly sophisticated and organised! This makes sense, if you think about it – where better to gain access to high-level company executives than in an expensive hotel? Q: Isn’t good public Wi-Fi something you can expect nowadays? No, sadly not! Over 80% of travellers expect Wi-Fi when they travel, with 75% actively searching for it prior to travel. But reports have shown that 82% of users are disappointed by the quality, speed or availability of public Wi-Fi when using it. More astoundingly, 79% do not trust public Wi-Fi security, whether paid or free…and probably for good reason, yet they continue to rely on this option. Q: What is the cheapest way to stay connected abroad? In our view, the cheapest route to mobile connectivity is to ensure you have enabled SMS-only roaming prior to leaving SA – and then buy a local SIM card and insert this into a wireless router. It must be noted, however, that this option does require the user to be technically savvy to set the APN settings of the router (assuming it is not network locked) and also to ensure the router is compatible with the destination network frequencies (e.g. USA 3G uses 1700 or 1900 MHz frequency, which many low cost SA wireless routers do not support). Q: Do companies have specific rules or policies for people working from abroad? Interestingly, less than 3% of our corporate customers have a policy that governs connectivity abroad. The approach is generally, “Go out and do your best! Good luck out there!” Many companies are very reluctant to consider options that increase cost (assuming there is free Wi-Fi available) in these times of ongoing cost reduction…even though the risk of a massive roaming bill or security breach is very real. We believe companies should be taking the matter more seriously. Indeed, with POPI and the threat of R10 million fines or Director jail time, CIOs need to consider this lack of regulation very carefully! Q: How expensive is it to use voice services when abroad? Roaming call costs are high. A better option would be to use some of the voice over data solutions like WhatsApp voice, Skype, Viber etc. all of which use about half a MB of data per minute, assuming you are using a low cost data connection like Wi-Fi. Video calling services (FaceTime, Skype, Lync, etc.) options use between two and four MB of data per minute. Bear in mind that mobile roaming data costs average R128/MB, so a call could end up costing you R64/minute  – and video call an extortionate R384/minute! It would actually be cheaper to phone at R23/minute (roaming call rate). The voice over data solutions are very handy but you need to ensure these services are used over a decent quality internet connection.

Vodacom in talks to revise structure of Neotel deal

Vodacom is in discussions with Neotel and its shareholders to explore a revised transaction structure. By Gugu Lourie

The South African biggest mobile phone operator is in a process of buying Neotel for R7 billion from its parent company Tata Communications. The Competition Tribunal was set to hear Vodacom’s application for the acquisition of Neotel between today, 23 November 2015, and 11 December 2015. But the tribunal has agreed on the weekend to postpone a hearing into the proposed R7bn Vodacom-Neotel merger. Vodacom informed investors on Monday that it was in discussions with Neotel and the shareholders of Neotel to explore a revised transaction structure.
“The outcome of these discussions will directly impact the extent of the approval being sought from the Competition Tribunal and the scope of the Competition Tribunal hearing. Accordingly, Vodacom South Africa and Neotel have requested that the hearing be postponed. The details applicable to the postponement are to be determined at Competition Tribunal hearing in Pretoria today. Shareholders will be advised accordingly of the outcome”
Launched in 2006 to compete with Telkom, Neotel owns a lucrative 800MHz spectrum, which is at the heart of concerns raised about the pending Vodacom-Neotel deal. However, the deal is being opposed by rivals Telkom, MTN and Cell C. ICASA’s decision to approve the proposed transaction has also been taken on review in the High Court by Telkom, MTN, Cell C and Dimension Data. Vodacom, which is owned by British mobile phone giant Vodafone, is keen to see the deal being finalised by 11 December so that it can aggressively roll out its fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fibre-to-the-business (FTTB) services. In the meantime, Joosub told Business Day newspaper that Vodacom will seek certain guarantees and securities from Tata Communications to cover any potential liabilities that may arise from its acquisition of Neotel following fraud allegations at the fixed-line company. The Mail & Guardian reported in July that Neotel paid R66m — allegedly in kickbacks — from April last year to February this year to a company called Homix to secure a R1.8bn contract to provide network-related services to Transnet.

Hearing into Vodacom-Neotel merger delayed

The Competition Tribunal of South Africa agreed on the weekend to postpone a hearing into the proposed R7bn Vodacom-Neotel merger. By Gareth van Zyl, NewsAgency

This comes after Vodacom [JSE:VOD] and Neotel brought an application for a postponement of the hearing that was scheduled to start on Monday. Reasons for the postponement were not disclosed by the Competition Tribunal. However, Fin24 understands that the delay has inconvenienced parties opposed to the merger as witnesses have been transported to Gauteng where the hearing is planned to happen in Pretoria. Instead, the Competition Tribunal will hold a private pre-hearing on Monday to discuss the application, the “issue of wasted costs” and when the hearing can reconvene, said the Competition Tribunal in a statement. The Competition Tribunal hearing is expected to be among the last hurdles facing the Vodacom-Neotel merger after the Competition Commission and the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) approved the merger earlier this year. However, telecommunications competitors are expected to oppose the proposed R7bn merger deal at the Competition Tribunal hearing amid arguments that the acquisition of Neotel’s spectrum would give Vodacom an unfair advantage. Vodacom is currently South Africa’s biggest mobile network with around 30 million subscribers. Intervening parties to attend the hearing include Telkom, Cell C, MTN, Icasa and economic development and telecommunications ministers. Icasa, in particular, is expected to oppose the Competition Commission’s conditions for the merger. In June, the Competition Commission approved the deal on condition that Vodacom not use Neotel’s spectrum to offer wholesale or retail mobile services for two years. The Competition Commission also requested that black economic empowerment shareholders must increase their stake in Vodacom by R1.4bn within two years, that Vodacom not retrench any employees amid the merger and that Vodacom invest R10bn in fixed network, data and connectivity infrastructure. – Fin24

Usain Bolt to promote Telkom’s fibre

Telkom on Sunday announced that that it has teamed up with Olympic sprinter, Usain Bolt in a media partnership to promote fibre technology. Bolt is regarded as the fastest person ever and the first man to hold both the 100 metres and 200 metres world records. He is the reigning Olympic champion in these events and the first man to win six gold medals in sprinting. By Staff Writer

This alliance is a first of its kind between a South African telecommunications company and an international sprint star.  Telkom is currently rolling out an extensive network of fibre technology as part of its campaign to provide all South Africans with broadband technology. Telkom filmed the superstar athlete in his home country of Jamaica last weekend and, during that filming, Bolt thanked his many South African fans for their ongoing support. Watch Telkom’s launch video below:   Telkom’s Chief Marketing Officer, Enzo Scarcella, said the association with Bolt helped drive the message of Telkom’s commitment to provide South African’s with the most advanced broadband technology available. “We believe that Bolt, as the fastest person in the world, will assist us in creating awareness of the speed, consistency and reliability that fibre technology offers.” Telkom is committed to reaching one million homes with fibre by 2018 to expand, what is already the largest fibre network in the country. Fibre to the home currently allows for download speeds of up to 100Mbps, allowing users to download a standard definition 4.7GB video in under seven minutes. An entire music album can be downloaded in eight seconds. Watch Usain Bolt send good wishes to his South African Fans:   Fibre optic cables transmit light and is thus not affected by interference from electromagnetic noise such as radios, motors, power lines, electric fences or other cables. Consequently, fibre broadband offers greater reliability and stability.  

Telkom shares extends gains on Cell C

South Africa’s Telkom’s share price has been on the up again today, buoyed by yesterday’s collapse of the talks with Dubai-Based Oger Telecom to buy Cell C. By Staff Writer

On Thursday, Telkom shares jumped after acquisition talks with Oger Telecom to buy its stake in Cell C collapsed, ending concern the local firm would overpay to bulk up its mobile phone assets. Telkom shares traded a 1.52% higher at R68.02 by midday on Friday as investors continue to digest news of the country’s incumbent fixed line operator calling talks off  discussions with Oger Telecom to buy the country’s third biggest mobile phone operator.
“We believe Telkom has discovered some nasty issues when they were conducting their due diligence on Cell C assets and they used the price issue as a sticking point to avoid painting the company as a vulnerable asset,” said Cape Town analyst, who wanted to remain anonymous.
On Thursday, Telkom shares gained 9.96% at R67.58 giving the telco a market value of more than R34 billion after it announced on the JSE that talks with Oger Telecom to buy Cell C collapsed. Market talk has suggested that Oger Telecom was asking a R20 billion price tag on Cell C. Telkom said on Thursday talks to buy Cell C collapsed after not reaching an agreement with Oger Telecom on how to value Cell C. By “mutual agreement” Telkom and Oger Telecoms said they have ended all discussions related to the potential purchase of Cell C by Telkom. “Through Telkom’s engagement with Oger Telecoms in relation to Cell C, it has become clear that there is a difference between the parties on the assessment of value of the proposed transaction. As no agreement has been reached, Telkom and Oger Telecoms today agreed to end all discussions,” said Telkom in a statement.  

Post Office won’t be privatised

Turnaround plans at the South African Post Office do not include any talk of privatisation, says the state-owned company’s new chief executive officer. By Gareth van Zyl, NewsAgency

Cabinet on Thursday approved the appointment of Mark Barnes as the Group Chief Executive Officer of the South African Post Office (Sapo) with his five-year term expected to start on January 15 2016. Barnes is currently the biggest shareholder and executive chairperson in investing and trading solutions company Purple Group. He was also previously an investment banker at Standard Corporate and Merchant Bank (SCMB) and former head of private equity firm Brait.
Mark Barnes, the new Group CEO of the South African Post Office
Government has launched a ‘turnaround’ process at Sapo which last month announced that it’s struggling to pay staff salaries after it reported a preliminary net loss of about R1.1bn earlier this year. Barnes told Fin24 on Thursday that he sees Sapo as ultimately becoming profitable by adopting to the internet age and not just “delivering letters”. But he added that privatisation is not on the cards for Sapo as part of its turnaround plans. “What we’re going to do now has got nothing to do with privatisation; it’s just got to do with turning a business around in accordance with their strategic turnaround plan and making it a viable business-connected business,” he told Fin24. One key advantage that Barnes plans to tap at the Post Office includes the “legislative protection” it has as a state-owned entity, its “very low cost of capital” and its wide reach across the country. “I put the proposition forward to government some time ago that actually the way out of the difficulties at the Post Office is growth not restraint and that it is rather well positioned if you think of it as not just the Post Office but as this organisation with an extreme reach in terms of its representation in the country with something like 2 500 points of representation, 1 500 branches,” Barnes told Fin24. “Inside the Post Office is a bank with a seriously low cost of capital and it’s a very close to most of the population of our country,” Barnes said. These features could be adapted to help Sapo take on courier competitors as well, Barnes added. Barnes takes the reins at Sapo after instability has dogged the company. A months-long strike in 2014 over temporary workers’ pay resulted in postal services being disrupted. After the strike ended in November 2014, the Sapo board resigned and government put the company under administration. Barnes now takes over from acting CEO Trevor Ndlazi after the company’s former permanent chief executive Christopher Hlekane’s contract was terminated in September 2015. – Fin24

Project Isizwe scoops awards at the 2015 AfricaCom

Project Isizwe, a non-profit organisation which aims to bring Free WiFi to low-income areas across South Africa, was counted amongst the big winners at the 8th Annual Africacom Awards, held yesterday at the Cape Town ICC.

Project Isizwe won in two categories: “The Best Connectivity Solution for Africa” for the Tshwane Free WiFi Project and “Best App for Africa” for the Tshwane WiFi Voice Mobile App. Launched in 2013, Tshwane Free WiFi, currently has over 700 live sites and 1 Million Unique Users connected at speeds averaging 15mbps. The people of the City are able to enjoy 500MB per device per day and unlimited access to educational, employment-focused, entrepreneurship and entertainment content. The Tshwane Free WiFi service will be expanding to ensure that WiFi is within walking distance of every citizen by 2017, as communicated in the State of the Capital address earlier this year. The model can be replicated throughout Africa based on the proven success of Tshwane Free WiFi to use connectivity as a catalyst for positive change. In the Best App for Africa category, Project Isizwe, developed Tshwane WiFi Voice, a application allowing free calls between users on the network as well as free calls to the City of Tshwane Customer Care call centre. Users can simply register their mobile details on wififvoice.projectisizwe.org and download the app using a andoid, ios or windows smart phone, tablet or laptop.  
Project Isizwe Team
Project Isizwe Team
  “This is indeed a great achievement for the team” said, Zahir Khan, COO of Project Isizwe, who is taking over from Alan Knott-Craig Jr as CEO from January 2016. “Project Isizwe is committed to bridging the digital divide through Free WiFi and winning the “Best Connectivity Solution for Africa’ shows that the continent is ready for a connected Africa. Following through with the ‘Best App for Africa’ is just one way that the Free WiFi model starts to effect change for the benefit of our African people. A digital nation and continent will ensure Africa’s position as the continent with the most opportunity.”  

New Post Office boss talks tough

Cabinet has approved the appointment of Mark Barnes as the Group Chief Executive Officer of the South African Post Office (Sapo) on Thursday. By Gareth van Zyl, NewsAgency

Barnes has been appointed for a five-year period, starting from January 15 2016. There is expected to be a handover from Trevor Ndlazi who was appointed as acting group chief executive officer in October. Barnes graduated from UCT with an Honours Degree in Actuarial Science and attended Harvard Business School. He is also the single biggest shareholder and executive chairperson in investing and trading solutions company Purple Group. He also has leadership experience in financial services at Standard Bank, Capital Alliance and Brait, according to the Purple Group website. Barnes told Fin24 that he sees the Post Office as “delivering more than just letters” as he plans to evolve its role in the internet age. He also sees the Post Office as standing on its own two feet. “I expect to see evidence of a turnaround strategy probably within 6 to 18 months and then in three years time I would hope that we have an established different way of doing business,” Barnes told Fin24. “My case is not built on a government bail out, my case is built on the Post Office bailing itself out,” he said. Meanwhile, the  Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services Siyabonga Cwele said that Barnes’ appointment is expected to solidify Sapo’s top leadership “This stable leadership will help the board to implement the Strategic Turnaround Plan that was approved by Cabinet in June this year. In August, Cabinet approved the appointment of the current board. I believe the board is capable and needs an equally capable management team to turn the Post Office around,” said Cwele. The ministry is also engaging with National Treasury “to find ways of investing in the Post Office”, said Cwele. Cost-cutting and cost-containment measures have also been implemented at Sapo with “onerous contracts” having been cut, added the minister. – Fin24

The big data challenge and how Africa can benefit

Big data has become some sort of celebrity. Everybody talks about it, but it is not clear what it is. To unpack its relevance to society it is important to backtrack a bit to understand why and how it came to be this ubiquitous problem. By 
Big data is about processing large amounts of data. It is associated with multiplicities of data formats stored somewhere, say in a cloud or in distributed computing systems. But the ability to generate data systematically outpaces the ability to store it. The amount of data is becoming so big and is produced so fast that it cannot be stored with current technologies in a cost effective way. What happens when big data becomes too big and too fast?

How fundamental science contributes to society

The big data problem is yet another example of how the methods and techniques developed by scientists to study nature have had an impact on society. The techno-economic fabric that underlies modern society would be unthinkable without these contributions. There are numerous examples of how findings intended to probe nature ended up revolutionising life. Big data is intimately intertwined with fundamental science and continues to evolve with it. Consider just a few examples: what would life be without electricity or electromagnetic waves? Without the fundamental studies of Maxwell, Hertz and other physicists on the nature of electromagnetism we would not have radio, television or other forms of wave mediated communication, for that matter. Modern electronics is based on materials called semi-conductors. What would life today be without electronics? The invention of transistors and eventually of integrated circuits is based entirely on the work scientists have done by thoroughly studying semi-conductors. Modern medicine relies on countless techniques and applications. These range from x-rays, medical imaging physics and nuclear magnetic resonance to other techniques such as radiation therapeutic and nuclear medicine physics. Modern medicine and research would be unthinkable without techniques that were initially conceived for scientific research purposes.

How the information age came about

The big data problem initially emerged as a result of the need for scientists to communicate and exchange data. At the European laboratory CERN in 1990, internet pioneer Tim Berners-Lee suggested a browser called WorldWideWeb, leading to the first web server. The internet was born. The internet has magnified the ability to exchange information and learn, leading to a proliferation of data. The problem isn’t only about volume. The time lapsing between the generation and processing of information has also been greatly reduced. The Large Hadron Collider has pushed the boundaries of data collection to limits never seen before. When the project, and its experiments, were being conceived in the late 1980s scientists realised that new concepts and techniques needed to be developed to deal with streams of data that were bigger than had ever been seen before. It was then that concepts that contributed to cloud and distributed computing were developed. One of the main tasks of the Large Hadron Collider is to observe and explore the Higgs boson, a particle connected with the generation of mass of fundamental particles, by means of colliding protons at high energy. The probability of finding a Higgs boson in a high-energy proton-proton collision is extremely small. For this reason it is necessary to collide many protons many times every second. The Large Hadron Collider produces data flows of the order of petabytes every second. To give an idea of how big a petabyte is, the entire written works of mankind from beginning of written history, in all languages, can be stored in about 50 petabytes. An experiment at the Large Hadron Collider generates that much data in less than one minute. Only a small fraction of the data produced is stored. But even this has already reached the exabyte scale (one thousand times a petabyte) leading to new challenges in distributed and cloud computing. The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) in South Africa will start generating data in the 2020s. SKA will have the processing power of about 100 million PCs. The data it collects in a single day would take nearly two million years to play back on an iPod. This will produce new challenges for the correlation of vast amounts of data.

Big data and Africa

The African continent often lags behind the rest of the world when it comes to embracing innovation. Nevertheless big data is increasingly being seen as a solution to tackling poverty on the continent. The private sector has been the first to get out of the starting blocks. The bigger African firms are, naturally, more likely to have big data projects. In Nigeria and Kenya at least 40% of businesses are in the planning stages of a big data project compared with the global average of 51%. Only 24% of medium companies in the two countries are planning big data projects. Rich rewards can be reaped from harnessing big data. For example, healthcare organisations can benefit from digitising, combining and effectively using big data. This could enable a range of players, from single-physician offices and multi-provider groups to large hospital networks, to deliver better and more effective services. Grasping the challenge of managing big data could have big economic spin-offs too. With economies becoming more and more sophisticated and complex the amount of data generated increases rapidly. As a result, in order to improve these complex processes it is necessary to process and understand increasing volumes of data. With this labour productivity is enhanced. But for any of these benefits to become reality, Africa needs specialists who are proficient in big data techniques. Universities on the continent need to start teaching how big data can be used to find solutions to scientific problems. A sophisticated economy requires specialists who are skilled in big data techniques.

Telkom shares surge after Cell C talks fail

Telkom shares jumped after after acquisition talks with Dubai-based Oger Telecom to buy its stake in Cell C collapsed on Thursday, ending concern the local firm would overpay to bulk up its mobile phone assets. By Staff Writer

Telkom said on Thursday talks to buy Cell C collapsed after not reaching an agreement with Oger Telecom on how to value Cell C. By “mutual agreement” Telkom and Oger Telecoms said they have ended all discussions related to the potential purchase of Cell C by Telkom. “Through Telkom’s engagement with Oger Telecoms in relation to Cell C, it has become clear that there is a difference between the parties on the assessment of value of the proposed transaction. As no agreement has been reached, Telkom and Oger Telecoms today agreed to end all discussions,” said Telkom in a statement.
Telkom shares gained 9.96% at R67.58 giving the telco a market value of more than R34 billion.
The investors are really cheering the management’s decision to walk away from the deal after conducting a due diligence. Market talk has suggested that Oger Telecom was asking a R20 billion price tag on Cell C. Now Telkom will need to focus on building its mobile unit and maybe it could revive talks with MTN over network sharing deal that collapsed in August.