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Free Internet for students

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Having already zero rated the charge to key basic education sites and career portals, Vodacom has taken a decision to zero rate services to universities for students and staff who are Vodacom subscribers.

The cost to communicate in South Africa has been a hot topic in recent times, given the impact of the economic slowdown on the South African consumer and global trends on the cost of data.

In response to this, Vodacom’s pricing transformation strategy, anchored by personalised packages aimed at giving customers greater value, has over the last four years produced a reduction in the price of data and voice by more than 60% and 57% respectively. Vodacom acknowledges that more needs to be done to enable South Africans to enjoy social benefits of connectivity and associated costs. We remain committed to addressing data cost transformation and building on our Siyakha platform that offers zero-rated portals for school learners and job seekers.

Having already zero rated the charge to key basic education sites and career portals, Vodacom has taken a decision to zero rate services to universities for students and staff who are Vodacom subscribers. This in a bid to help address cost challenges associated with access to education content and remote learning for institutions of higher learning. Through this approach, Vodacom has already enabled 19 of the 23 South African Universities, including the University of Cape Town (UCT), with free internet access.

Dr Max Price, UCT Vice-Chancellor, said students and other eligible users will have access to the free service. Free internet access to students and staff has until now only been accessible through the Eduroam Wi-Fi platform that can only be accessible within the vicinity of the university and its residences.

Dr Max Price, UCT Vice-Chancellor, said: “The University of Cape Town is grateful to Vodacom for providing such an important resource to our students and staff. The service will be very useful to our students in that it will enable them to do their work off-campus without worrying about data costs or without having the need to travel to campus.”

In the case of UCT, The sites will be accessible through the agreed uniform resource locators (URL), internet protocols (IP) and ports which will provide addresses to particular pages and files on the internet. The identified addresses will include UCT’s website http://www.uct.ac.za, the online library http://www.lib.uct.ac.za, and other important classroom and general interactive university sites.

For requirements over and above the zero rated content, Vodacom has launched an e-rate i.e. billing all data traffic to agreed sites at 50% of the normal data rates for all universities.

Vodacom Managing Executive for Western Cape Region, Alberts Breed says: “This intervention is a demonstration of Vodacom’s core belief that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and mobile technology can be utilised to improve and advance learning, address skills development and help in finding employment.

Breed says: “Many learners in our country often cannot afford and don’t have access to learning material such as textbooks, which makes excelling at school more difficult. As an investor in the country and an established partner in addressing social challenges, Vodacom’s goal is to contribute to ensuring that learners throughout the country have access to some of the educational tools to help enhance their learning experience.”

He emphasised that education is not just a government issue, but the private sector and the general public are to play a pivotal roles in providing access to higher education and further education and training.

Other Vodacom zero rated sites include:

• The Mobile Education programme, which is Vodacom’s holistic approach to ensuring sustainable benefit to educators and learners by providing Internet connectivity, ICT equipment, content and teacher training through 92 ICT centres across the country.

• Vodacom Tries for Books campaign. The programme is an educational content application, which is freely available on tablets at the 92 Vodacom ICT resource centres that are situated across the country. The e-library has been up loaded with e-books made available by publishing partners including Via Afrika, Oxford University Press, Shuter & Shooter and FunDza. Internet connectivity and access to the e-libraries is free.

• In a bid to help address skills development and job creation within the ICT sector, Vodacom together with its partners, MICT-Seta, Cisco, CompTia, Microsoft and Independent Development Trust (IDT) and Cisco embarked on a drive to help empower unemployed youth with ICT skills training. The partnership trains unemployed youth in ICT skills and helps further develop them into ICT entrepreneurs. To date, 923 trainees have gained basic computer skills, IT essentials, enterprise development and business skills through the programme.

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Online retail gets real

After decades of experience in selling online, retailers still seek out the secret of reaching the digital consumer, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s been 23 years since the first pizza and the first bunch of flowers was sold online. One would think, after all this time, that retailers would know exactly what works, and exactly how the digital consumer thinks.

Yet, in shopping-mad South Africa, only 4% of adults regularly shop online. One could blame high data costs, low levels of tech-savviness, or lack of trust. However, that doesn’t explain why a population where more than a quarter of people have a debit or credit card and almost 40% of people use the Internet is staying away.

The new Online Retail in South Africa 2019 study, conducted by World Wide Worx with the support of Visa and Platinum Seed, reveals that growth is in fact healthy, but is still coming off a low base. This year, the total sale of retail products online is expected to pass the R14-billion mark, making up 1.4% of total retail.

This figure represents 25% growth over 2017, and comes after the same rate of growth was seen in 2017. At this rate, it is clear that online retail is going mainstream, driven by aggressive marketing, and new shopping channels like mobile shopping. 

But it is equally clear that not all retailers are getting it right. According to the study, the unwillingness of business to reinvest revenue in developing their online presence is one of the main barriers to long-term success. Only one in five companies surveyed invested more than 20% of their online turnover back into their online store. Over half invested less than 10% back.

On the surface, the industry looks healthy, as a surprisingly high 71% of online retailers surveyed say they are profitable. But this brings to mind the early days of Amazon.com, in 1996, when founder Jeff Bezos was asked when it would become profitable.

He declared that it would not be profitable for at least another five years. And if it did, he said, it would be in big trouble. He meant that it was so important for long-term sustainability that Amazon reinvest all its revenues in customer systems, that it could not afford to look for short-term profits.

According to the South African study, the single most critical factor in the success of online retail activities is customer service. A vast majority, 98% of respondents, regarded it as important. This positions customer service as the very heart of online retail. For Amazon, investment back into systems that would streamline customer service became the key to the world’s digital wallets.

In South Africa online still make up a small proportion of overall retail, but for the first time we see the promise of a broader range of businesses in terms of category, size, turnover and employee numbers. This is a sign that our local market is beginning to mature. 

Clothing and apparel is the fastest growing sector, but is also the sector with the highest turnover of businesses. It illustrates the dangers of a low barrier to entry: the survival rate of online stores in this sector is probably directly opposite to the ease of setting up an online apparel store.

A fast-growing category that was fairly low on the agenda in the past, alcohol, tobacco and vaping, has benefited from the increased online supply of vapes, juices and accessories. It also suggests that smoking bans, and the change in the legal status of marijuana during the survey, may have boosted demand. 

In the coming weeks, we can expect online retail to fall under the spotlight as never before. Black Friday, a shopping tradition imported “wholesale” from the United States, is expected to become the biggest online shopping day of the year in South Africa, as it is in the USA.

Initially, it was just a gimmick in South Africa, attempting to cash in on what was a purely American tradition of insane sales on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, which occurs on the third Thursday of November every year. It is followed by Cyber Monday, making the entire weekend one of major promotions and great bargains.

It has grown every year in South Africa since its first introduction about six years ago, and last year it broke into the mainstream, with numerous high profile retailers embracing it, and many consumers experiencing it for the first time. 

It is now positioned as the prime bargain day of the year for consumers, and many wait in anticipation for it, as they do in the USA. Along with Cyber Monday, it provides an excuse for retailers to go all out in their marketing, and for consumers to storm the display shelves or web pages. South African shoppers, clearly, are easily enticed by bargains.

Word of mouth around Black Friday has also grown massively in the past two years, driven by both media and shoppers who have found ridiculous bargains. As news spreads that the most ridiculous of the bargains are to be had online, even those who were reticent of digital shopping will be tempted to convert.

The Online Retail in SA 2019 report has shown over the years that, as people become more experienced in using the Internet, their propensity to shop online increases. This is part of the World Wide Worx model known as the Digital Participation Curve. The key missing factor in the Curve is that most retailers do not know how to convert that propensity into actual online shopping behaviour. Black Friday will be one of the keys to conversion.

Carry on reading to find out about the online retailers of the year.

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Reliable satellite Internet?

MzansiSat, a satellite-Internet business, aims to beam Internet connections to places in South Africa which don’t have access to cabled and mobile network infrastructure, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Stellenbosch-based MzansiSat promises to provide cheap wholesale Internet to Internet Service Providers for as little as R25 per Gigabyte. Providers who offer more expensive Internet services could benefit greatly from partnering with MzansiSat, says the company. 

“Using MzansiSat, we hope that we can carry over cost-savings benefits to the consumer,” says Victor Stephanopoli, MzansiSat chief operating officer.

The company, which has been spun off from StellSat, has been looking to increase its investor portfolio while it waits for spectrum approval. The additional investment will allow MzansiSat’s satellite to operate in more regions across Africa.

The MzansiSat satellite is being built by Thales Alenia Space, a French company which is also acting as technical partner to MzansiSat. In addition to building the satellite, Thales Alenia Space will also be assisting MzansiSat in coordinating the launch. The company intends to launch the satellite into the 56°E orbital slot in a geostationary orbit, which enables communication almost anywhere in Africa. The launch is expected to happen in 2022. 

The satellite will have 76 transponders, 48 of which will be Ku-band and 28 C-band. Ku-band is all about high-speed performance, while C-band deals with weather-resistance. The design intention is for customers of MzansiSat to choose between very cheap, reliable data and very fast, power-efficient data. 

C-band is an older technology, which makes bandwidth cheaper and almost never affected by rain but requires bigger dishes and slower bandwidth compared to Ku-band connections. On the other hand, Ku-band is faster, experiences less microwave interference, and requires less power to run – but is less reliable with bad weather conditions.

MzansiSat’s potential military applications are significant, due to the nature of the military being mobile and possibly in remote areas without connectivity.  Connectivity everywhere would be potentially be life-saving.

Consumers in remote areas will benefit, even though satellite is higher in latency than fibre and LTE connections. While this level of latency is high (a fifth of a second in theory), satellite connections are still adequate for browsing the Internet and watching online content. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) may see the benefits of satellite Internet before consumers do. The applications of IoT in agriculture are vast, from hydration sensors to soil nutrient testers, and can be realised with an Internet connection which is available in a remote area.

Stephanopoli says that e-learning in remote areas can also benefit from MzansiSat’s presence, as many school resources are becoming readily available online. 

“Through our network, the learning experience can be beamed into classrooms across the country to substitute or complement local resources within the South African schooling system.”

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