As fibre-to-the-home rolls out in earnest across suburban South Africa, the army with the most weapons is being left behind on the field of battle, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
In the second decade of the 21st century, fibre-to-the-home represents the arrival of the future. Once the cost of installation is covered, it has the potential to deliver almost unlimited speed, capacity and quality in broadband connectivity, at a similar cost to far slower and unreliable services.
So imagine you have the potential to roll it out to numerous businesses in South Africa, as well as to hundreds of thousands of homes. Let’s say, in the process, you could not only revolutionise connectivity, but also win the goodwill of a consumer base that has done little but vilified you for the previous decade.
What would you do? The answer is obvious. Yet, a company that presides over a 144 000km network of fibre optic cable, and that has been the butt of consumer ridicule since the turn of the century, initially decided to sit out the battle for the future.
The company was Telkom, which has developed its fibre network to serve the exchanges from which copper wire extends to homes and businesses across the country. At one time, it had 5,5-million connections via this fibre-copper marriage. Today it is down to less than 3,5-million. ADSL lines, which deliver broadband to homes and small businesses, reached the million mark for the first time this year, but their growth is constrained by ever-lower ceiling of fixed lines, through which ADSL services are provided.
It’s been obvious for years that Telkom should be modernising its network, replacing copper with fibre and pioneering fibre-to-the-home services. In fact, it had done exactly that for larger business customers, resulting in a nimble, profitable and high-quality business division within the organisation. But it refused to enter the battlefield for smaller businesses and consumers.
Into this gap came the so-called second network operator, Neotel, which also failed the consumer, but got one thing right: it laid down an urban fibre grid, and began serving fibre to business customers more economically and eagerly. At the same time, a private entity called Dark Fibre Africa built out its own urban fibre grid, offering to lease capacity to any operator that needed to light up additional fibre to service its own network.
These businesses opened the way for smaller operators to use these backbones to roll out their own mini-networks in specific areas or niches. For example, Metrofibre serves business customers where many of them are clustered together, such as in central business districts or business parks. And the newest kid on the block, Vumatel, lights up consumer homes, one suburb at a time.
When the Parkhurst Residents’ Association announced last year it had appointed Vumatel as its fibre-to-the-home network provider, Telkom suddenly leaped into battle and declared it would also supply FTTH to Parkhurst, along with a bunch of other suburbs.
It quickly discovered, though, that Vumatel had that high-income suburb neatly wrapped up, and crossed it off the roll-out list. One suburb after another, it is having to do the same, as Vumatel engages directly with resident’s groups while Telkom declares its offerings from a distance.
It is no coincidence that it is even borrowing the terminology used by Vumatel in its suburban marketing. The latter calls the new connected suburbs “Fibrehoods”. Telkom calls them “FutureHoods”. Unintentionally, the term underlines the extent to which Telkom is responding to competition rather than leading it.
Telkom also appears to have an additional connectivity weapon: LTE-Advanced, or 4G mobile broadband. That means it can offer high-speed connectivity through the simple mechanism of well-placed towers, rather than having to dig trenches across entire suburbs and still have to build connections into homes.
However, Vumatel see this as a means of job creation, and has fine-tuned the process to make it both efficient and economical. The result is that the average homeowner in a targeted suburb pays only R1500 to be linked up, and then chooses the Internet service itself from a range of service providers.
The cost of the service is equivalent to or little more than what many households were previously paying for the combination of fixed-line rental, ADSL rental and data charges. Fibre services typically include a fixed-type phone service at no additional cost.
The announcement last week that residents of Victory Park, Linden, Bryanston South and Blairgowrie had endorsed Vumatel may not have been big news in itself. However, it came on the back of similar announcements by residents of four other suburbs: Killarney, Riviera, Saxonwold and Parkwood. And these, in turn, were underlined by the switch-on of Parkhurst, Greenside and Parktown North.
Each successive endorsement or switch-on is trivial in itself. The momentum it represents, however, is revolutionary. With Vumatel expanding its reach from one suburb to the next, to cover an ever-increasing expanse of suburban Johannesburg, we are seeing nothing less than the emergence of an alternative communications network in the city.
As new suburbs are linked, hundreds of new fibre users suddenly discover the massive impact it makes on work, entertainment and communication activities. Word spreads, and the appetite for fibre mushrooms.
“We typically sat in a chicken and egg situation, where you don’t have high speed broadband so it’s difficult for people to understand what it means,” says Niel Schoeman, CEO of Vumatel. “Consumers are skeptical about paying for something they’ve never experienced. Its only know the price shift has happened that fibre broadband has been commoditised and people are willing to experience it.”
Meanwhile, Telkom has embarked on a marketing blitz to sell its FutureHoods via mobile broadband. But suddenly, its ability to offer both infrastructure and connectivity services in one package has become its biggest weakness: it has to attempt to be all things to all people, which forces it to take a couple-of-sizes-fits-all approach to packaging its services.
Vumatel, on the other hand, is able to draw on a dozen service providers, each structuring its packages to suit a different customer category. Competition between these providers has forced prices down even further. It is not so much a battle as a series of skirmishes that is being fought suburb-by suburb. In almost every case, consumers are the winners.
Huawei goes ultra-premium
Porsche Design and Huawei have launched the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS in South Africa exclusive to MTN and retailing for R 26 459.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS boasts features like the world’s first dual fingerprint design, including an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the world’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) processor and Leica triple camera with 40MP image capture.
“After the overwhelming success of the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10 Pro in South Africa, we now bring you our latest offering, a perfect blend of innovation in a smartphone and luxury design,” said Likun Zhao, Vice President of Huawei Consumer Business Group Southern Africa. “From three-point security feature including facial recognition, rear fingerprint scanner and the new innovative in-screen fingerprint to the Leica triple camera system. it culminates in an unprecedented experience for our customers.”
The device incorporates Porsche Design’s signature design language and Huawei’s breakthrough technology. The phone has a 6” 2K curved OLED screen and symmetrical look, minimalist feel and 8-edged 3D curved glass body.
High performance is symbolised by the naming of the smartphone: the term “RS” in the world of Porsche motorsport stands for outstanding racing performance.
Huawei provided the following information on The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS benefits and features :
· The world’s first dual fingerprint scanner for enhanced convenience, allowing users to wake and unlock the device simply, thanks to an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Hover to wake the device, touch to unlock it
· The winning combination of Leica triple camera with 40MP RGB sensor technology and exceptional photography powered by Master AI. This combination puts effortless, eye-catching photography at the fingertips of those looking to immortalise their favourite moments. Combined with 5 x hybrid zoom, and the world’s first AI image stabilisation on a smartphone camera ensures photography lovers can capture the best shots with exceptional clarity in almost any situation
· The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS is the first Huawei handset to allow quick wireless charging, making it even easier to keep the phone topped up and ready to go and, thanks to its long lasting battery, users will easily be powered through the busiest of days
· An ‘intelligent’ smartphone, the powerful AI processor automatically tailors the performance of the phone according to how it is used – constantly learning, understanding and anticipating needs, it is the perfect personal assistant for the pocket
· 256GB of internal storage means those constantly on the go and constantly on their phone can be worry free
· Dual SLS (super linear system) speakers with DOLBY ATMOS enable users to have a superior experience, with the best immersive surround sound and entertainment on the go
· Splash, water and dust resistant, which means there is no need to worry about damaging the device in the rain or accidentally dropping it in water
Jan Becker, CEO Porsche Design Group, said: “Both Porsche Design and Huawei seek to imagine and develop products that stand for precision and perfection, intelligent functionality and highly sophisticated design. Our aim was to create an outstanding device that goes one step further. We believe we have reached this goal by taking our partnership to the next level.”
Porsche Design and Huawei have worked in tandem to develop a smartphone that fuses together the two brands’ DNA, wealth of experience in design and technology, industry-leading expertise and exceptional performance. Through the use of colour in the device’s body, software themes and accessories, the new handset is accentuated with Porsche Design’s distinguished aesthetic and purist, minimalist feel.
The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS will be available to purchase exclusively from MTN at R 26 459.
Cross-channel chat launched
Clickatell has launched a cross-channel live chat service, Touch Go, that transforms omni-channel customer care.
It enables live chat across a company’s website as well as social platforms (Twitter and Facebook) and mobile apps, bringing customer care and engagement into a single business platform.
“Today’s consumers expect to engage with your brand on the digital channel of their choosing,” says Deon van Heerden, Clickatell Engage CEO and Group CFO. “They want to message your business and instantly have queries resolved, find the information and services they are looking for, without the need for a voice call. Clickatell’s Touch Go makes that happen with the right level of capabilities for businesses of all sizes.”
Businesses can start using Touch Go immediately, with a free Starter option. Touch Go requires no credit card for sign-up and is fully featured with a simple setup process. It offers customisable branding, a unified chat desk business application as well as reports and analytics.
As the business scales up its digital customer care, it can opt-in for the Touch Enterprise offering. Touch Enterprise is designed for scaling up customer care efforts through advanced capabilities including AI driven virtual agents, sentiment analysis, automated workflows, enterprise integrations and in-channel mini-applications.
“Customer care has become a defining factor for sustained business success ” says Nirmal Nair, Clickatell Engage EVP Product & Marketing. “In an ever-increasing mobile native world, customers often choose to interact digitally, but they also expect to be able to reach a human immediately, should they need. Monitoring multiple channels and providing immediate action becomes challenging with siloed deployments. Touch’s unified solution allows businesses of all sizes to provide the customer delight in a simple modular approach.”