Wi-Fi is an Answer for Africa: Across Africa demands are changing, access models are changing and consumers are blurring the lines between corporate
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Thursday, 24 January 2013 17:20

With VoIP there's life after 1 March

With VoIP there's life after 1 March

Change to VoIP, or the next rate cut could be your last

 In 2010 Icasa, South Africa's telecoms regulator, announced that call termination rates - the price telcos may charge one another for carrying their calls - would drop each year over the next three years.

By 1 March 2013, the rate will be 40c/minute for mobile calls, 19c for national fixed-line calls, and 12c for local fixed-line calls.

But what will happen beyond 2013? "Recent events suggest that customers of the fixed and mobile networks have reached the end of the line with sustainable price cuts," says , Director of , "and may have to hasten their inevitable move to Voice over IP, following telcos and enterprises the world over."

Published in Networking
Thursday, 13 December 2012 12:56

The SMS year in review

The SMS year in review

This was the year when the SMS interconnect fee issue finally came to a head, with Cell C forcing the issue by breaking the existing gentlemen’s agreement between the network operators. It also saw the opt-in/opt-out debate being settled with the forthcoming passing of the Protection of Personal Information Bill (POPI) – happily key clauses were not as watered down as initially feared. And in a major step forward, Vodacom’s double opt-in capabilities have had a dramatic impact on reducing the number of complaints about subscription service sign ups.


SMS internetworking fees

The issue of no SMS interconnect fees being in place – the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement between the major mobile operators not to compete when it comes to terminating application-to-person (A2P) SMS messaging traffic – first bubbled up at the end of last year when new entrants, including Neotel and Telfree, took advantage of no fees for inter-network SMS connections and simply terminated A2P traffic over the incumbents’ networks. This was soon put to an end but then the apple cart was well and truly upset when Cell C – a far more formidable opponent – started allowing a single WASP to terminate messages on other networks this year.


This could have a major impact on the revenue of Vodacom and MTN because they are in effect terminating Cell C’s traffic for free. It will be interesting to see how long this state of affairs continues. Will Vodacom and MTN force Cell C to stop this practice, or will the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) step in and enforce SMS interconnect fees? The legislation is in place to do so but it needs to be enforced.


Key to how this plays out depends on Vodacom realising that although it stands to lose a bit of money if interconnect fees are introduced, at the end of the day, as the largest operator, it is actually in the pound seat as the most traffic will terminate on its network. Cell C, on the other hand, has the most to lose as a smaller network.


In my view, the bulk pricing of SMS messages for WASPs or emergent operators should be the same, and regulated by ICASA and governed by the Electronic Communications Act, allowing healthy competition and a level playing field for all.

Opt-in electronic marketing

Despite my initial concerns, POPI was not watered down as drastically as it looked like it might be earlier this year, despite lobbying by the Direct Marketing Association of South Africa (DMASA). The law will work on the basis that customers must opt into marketing messages when they first supply their cellphone number to a company and from then on be given the chance to opt out.


Significantly, although companies are allowed a single opportunity to request consent from non-customers, the rules around how this is done are strict. No marketing messages may be included in this request for consented to communication, and companies won’t be able to simply change their names and try again under a different brand. Finally, the legal definition of consent was not watered down – consent for marketing communications needs to be both explicit and informed. In this regard, the Wireless Application Service Providers’ Association (WASPA) code of conduct is already compliant with POPI.


When it comes to the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) Regulations, however, there has been no movement on the creation of a “do not contact” registry. Indeed, budget has yet to be allocated for it. While the DMASA wants its existing do not contact list to be used, in my opinion the unnecessary information the DMASA requests dissuades people from actually using it. I would suggest that all you need to verify that a person is who they say they are is their cellphone number.



It is now difficult for spammers to bypass the local networks and WASPA’s jurisdiction by using international routes, which means that in excess of 90% of South African A2P traffic can be traced back along identifiable routes. This allows WASPA to more effectively track down spammers, fine them, and in worst-case scenarios, expel them all together from the industry body and so expel them from operating in the South African market completely. The increase in adjudications and repeat offenders can be seen on the WASPA site. It is still important however that consumers escalate spam complaints via official channels to allow WASPA to investigate effectively and prevent other consumers from being spammed.


Double opt in

WASPA has seen Vodacom related unsubscribe requests drop from 70,000 to 20,000 over the course of the year thanks to Vodacom introducing a double opt-in mechanism for mobile subscription services. While previously customers would be able to sign up for a subscription service at the click of a button, now Vodacom confirms the subscription – adding in traceability in the case of fraud, and ensuring the customer is completely aware that they are signing up for an ongoing service. This prevents consumers accidentally signing-up for a service.


So while the jury is out on a number of issues that affect the SMS industry, on the whole, industry players have taken some major steps forward in protecting consumer rights and maintaining the integrity, and so the value, of mobile as a medium for business communications and transactions.

Published in Online
Monday, 20 August 2012 11:33

LTE – how can Africa prepare for this evolution?

LTE – how can Africa prepare for this evolution?

Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology is the next step up from 3G. This all-IP network technology will give users three times the wireless throughput and increase network capacity considerably. It's much needed in South Africa as the uptake of bandwidth hungry smart devices – smartphones, tablet PCs, etc. – grows and the backhaul capabilities of the networks become increasingly stressed. However, LTE technology is not compatible with 2G and 3G – it calls for a totally new technology installation and rollout. For new players, the first investment will be high but in the long run the cost per Megabit per second (Mbps) will make this an attractive solution.

With every major network provider in South Africa trialing LTE technology and ICASA looking like it may soon finalise the spectrum allocation issue, 2012 may well be the year of LTE. But trialing LTE is not the same as rolling out an LTE network, or offering an LTE quality service. Without doubt it's the direction every network provider needs to take, but there are challenges and considerations. An evolution rather than a revolution is on the cards.

The big challenge is to exchange the Telkom copper currently used on the backhaul with fibre. While there is now a lot of fibre rolled out, primarily by the big network players, smaller players are also rolling out fibre and presenting a new "open fibre" model. This model essentially opens up use of the fibre to any network provider with a need, for a fee of course. The technology used by these smaller players is going to be an important influencer as network service providers will want to easily integrate to and across these networks.

Current trends are leaning toward use of technology from vendors who represent the entire digital echo system in their product set. Samsung offers a good example with its end devices for consumers (smart phones and tablet PCs already equipped with LTE chip sets) as well as other carrier grade equipment and solutions.

Of course, few networks will migrate completely to LTE in the near terms. While this technology is per Mbps of capacity cheaper than the 3G technologies to install, it remains a significant investment. It is after all not a complementary network, but an additional one. Network providers will want to sweat their existing assets, most likely deploying LTE in metropolitan areas to service the large broadband demand here, and using current CDMA/WCDMA technologies for voice. In addition, older WiMAX technologies could be put to good use if redeployed to rural areas. Alternatively the reuse of Wimax frequencies (3.5Ghz) on LTE can have very positive impact on the network, eliminating the need to pay additional frequency costs. In this way, the networks can evolve, introducing new technologies to users of smart devices with the quality and speed of service that they desire, but also targeting new users and introducing new services and products to them as infrastructure build-out and demand allow. They will also have the providers of open fibre and specialised telecoms services to rely on to close gaps.

Smaller, new and hybrid telecoms players now on the scene may well change the traditional playing field and offer strategic advantage to existing local and international players entering the South African market.

The picture is bleaker for Africa due to lack of high capacity backbone infrastructure that the Broadband solutions rely on. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Ghana are moving towards LTE technology with many other countries trialing LTE. But the LTE challenge for Africa is much higher. While the landing of the EASSY, WACCS and SEACOM undersea cables means there is a huge amount more bandwidth capacity available to the continent, fibre reach to the shore to access that bandwidth is slow. In addition, budget to acquire and install LTE is limited. Nonetheless there is huge opportunity here, especially for greenfields players to launch with pure LTE offerings.

The big players in South Africa have the appetite to move to LTE – indeed are being driven to this new technology as their cells fill up and gaps are left in their RF coverage. For network providers, a hybrid technology strategy followed by the full launch of a LTE network is on the cards. My advice for consumers: ensure any new end devices you acquire are LTE ready as LTE services are likely to be here by the second quarter of 2013.

Published in Networking

The SA Leader Magazine


In the September issue

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Interview with one of SA’s Young Achievers

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