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Mobicel is changing the mobile game

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It’s a South African brand that is little known in higher income segments, but Mobicel is about to break out of the entry-level mould, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

South Africa has a long history of unknown mobile brands that start off catering for entry-level phone users, briefly threaten to challenge the big names, and then fizzle out like a fading signal from a derelict cellular mast.

Barely a year ago, for example, AG Mobile was the big story in local branding. It had sold millions of feature phones and low-cost smartphones, through mass-market retail chains like Jet and Pep. It was designed locally, manufactured in China, imported, and packaged for local tastes. It was a decade-long success story.

But then it overreached, produced a series of phones aimed at both low and middle-income segments, all the way up to mid-range smartphones. Not only that, but it flooded the market with handsets in the hope of replicating its success at the low end.

Overnight, the business collapsed as sales failed to keep up with the heady pace of imports. In a matter of days, the brand vanished from the shelves.

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Meanwhile, a second South African brand had been replicating AG’s success at the entry level. The decade-old Mobicel catered for every budget, if that budget was below R500 to buy the phone outright. At the top end of the market, where that amount and more is spent every single month on contracts, Mobicel was completely unknown.

Soon, that may change. Mobicel is about to venture on the path treaded by AG Mobile when it ventured outside its comfort zone.

There is one fundamental difference, however, said founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan: not only are quantities being carefully managed, but Mobicel is not committing itself to manufacturing capacity that cannot be covered by existing resources, and it is hitting the market with what it calls premium phones, at reasonable prices.

Mobicel founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan

Mobicel founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan

The Mobicel R9 and R9 Plus, launched last week, are rare examples of devices that really can change the mobile game.

The R9 Plus is an Android phone that sports not only a 5.7-inch touch screen, but also edge-to-edge display. Samsung has pioneered the concept with its flagship phones for a number of years, with Apple following suit in its latest iPhones this year. Only LG, with its Q6 released a few months ago, had introduced edge-to-edge screens in a mid-market phone.

So is this a mid-market phone? Perhaps a new category is needed. In a sense, Mobicel is following the lead of Chinese brand Xiaomi, which markets its mid-range smartphones as “high value, affordable devices”. But, at a price of R2 999, the Mobicel R9 Plus probably represents the best value-for-money yet in terms of features versus cost.

The truly remarkable feature of the phone, which does not appear to have been adopted by any other major manufacturer, is that it has flipped the traditional approach of having a premium camera on the rear of the phone and a lower-quality lens on the front for selfies.

With the R9 Plus, the selfie takes pride of place, with a dual front camera. One lens comes in at 20 Megapixels and the other at 8 MP. Mobicel describes it as the “Super Selfie” dual lens camera. It also offers a 120 degree wide angle view, along with “Super Low Light capability”.  And, like most mid- to –high-end phones, it sports a fingerprint sensor.

The slightly stripped down sibling of the Plus, the R9 Lite, will come to market at just under R2000. Both offer a 24-month warranty.

“We’ve created a handset with exceptional build quality, offering the latest technology, and the kind of features only ever before seen on handsets that cost four times as much,” said Kahn.

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Mobicel founder and CEO Ridhwan Khan

“We’ve used our experience, our understanding of the customer base and our economies of scale to offer them an opportunity to migrate from whatever device they’re using to our premium smartphone.”

Mobicel’s stratetic advantage is that it distributes through more than four thousand retail outlets, ranging from the smallest store to large discount chains. It will begin selling the new devices from the beginning of next month, both through retailers and online via Takealot.com.

“There is a big void between phones like the Vodafone Smart Kicka at R399, and the feature-rich smartphones from Samsung and Huawei,” Kahn said in an interview after the launch.

“No one’s filling that massive gap, almost indoctrinating consumers to the idea that if you really want a nice device you have to pay R6000 upward. There’s a massive opportunity. If we can play in the space between R1 500 and R3 000, we will start filling the void.

“Our biggest challenge is making the user experience an awesome one so that when people buy and use the device, whatever reservations they had about the price point is gone. We want people to experience the brand, so we are keeping margins very thin, and a big part of our margin is being put into building a local brand.”

This is uncharted territory for a businessman who entered the cellphone industry in 2002 by bringing in refurbished handsets from the United Kingdom. He would clean them up, and sell them as demo units. By  2007, demand had exceeded supply, and he realised there was a massive market waiting for him.

The first Mobicel handset, back in 2007, was the M404, a1.8-inch dual-SIM feature phone. That’s the year Apple launched the iPhone and sparked the smartphone revolution. It’s taken a decade for Mobicel to break out of the feature phone market, and now it wants to spark an equivalent revolution in the South African mass market.

Said Kahn, “The end game is to provide powerful smartphones without the hefty price tag.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.
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Bring your network with you

At last week’s Critical Communications World, Motorola unveiled the LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. It allows rescue personal to set up dedicated LTE networks for communication in an emergency, writes SEAN BACHER.

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In the event of an emergency, communications are absolutely critical, but the availability of public phone networks are limited due to weather conditions or congestion.

Motorola realised that this caused a problem when trying to get rescue personnel to those in need and so developed its LXN 500 LTE Ultra Portable Network Infrastructure. The product is the smallest and lightest full powered broadband network to date and allows the first person on the scene to set up an LTE network in a matter of minutes, allowing other rescue team members to communicate with each other.

“The LXN 500 weighs six kilograms and comes in a backpack with two batteries. It offers a range of 1km and allows up to 100 connections at the same time. However, in many situations the disaster area may span more than 1km which is why they can be connected to each other in a mesh formation,” says Tunde Williams, Head of Field and Solutions Marketing EMEA, Motorola Solutions.

The LXN 500 solution offers communication through two-way radios, and includes mapping, messaging, push-to-talk, video and imaging features onboard, thus eliminating the need for any additional hardware.

Data collected on the device can then be sent through to a central control room where an operator can deploy additional rescue personnel where needed. Once video is streamed into the control room, realtime analytics and augmented reality can be applied to it to help predict where future problem points may arise. Video images and other multimedia can also be made available for rescuers on the ground.

“Although the LXN 500 was designed for the seamless communications between on ground rescue teams and their respective control rooms, it has made its way into the police force and in places where there is little or no cellular signal such as oil rigs,” says Williams.

He gave a hostage scenario: “In the event of a hostage situation, it is important for the police to relay information in realtime to ensure no one is hurt. However the perpetrators often use their mobile phones to try and foil any rescue attempts. Should the police have the correct partnerships in place they are able to disable cellular towers in the vicinity, preventing any in or outgoing calls on a public network and allowing the police get their job done quickly and more effectively.”

By disabling any public networks in the area, police are also able to eliminate any cellular detonated bombs from going off but still stay in touch with each other he says.

The LXN 500 offers a wide range of mission critical cases and is sure to transform communications and improve safety for first responders and the people they are trying to protect.

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Kaspersky moves to Switzerland

As part of its Global Transparency Initiative, Kaspersky Lab is adapting its infrastructure to move a number of core processes from Russia to Switzerland.

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This includes customer data storage and processing for most regions, as well as software assembly, including threat detection updates. To ensure full transparency and integrity, Kaspersky Lab is arranging for this activity to be supervised by an independent third party, also based in Switzerland.

Global transparency and collaboration for an ultra-connected world

The Global Transparency Initiative, announced in October 2017, reflects Kaspersky Lab’s ongoing commitment to assuring the integrity and trustworthiness of its products. The new measures are the next steps in the development of the initiative, but they also reflect the company’s commitment to working with others to address the growing challenges of industry fragmentation and a breakdown of trust. Trust is essential in cybersecurity, and Kaspersky Lab understands that trust is not a given; it must be repeatedly earned through transparency and accountability.

The new measures comprise the move of data storage and processing for a number of regions, the relocation of software assembly and the opening of the first Transparency Center.

Relocation of customer data storage and processing

By the end of 2019, Kaspersky Lab will have established a data center in Zurich and in this facility, will store and process all information for users in Europe, North America, Singapore, Australia, Japan and South Korea, with more countries to follow. This information is shared voluntarily by users with the Kaspersky Security Network (KSN) an advanced, cloud-based system that automatically processes cyberthreat-related data.

Relocation of software assembly

Kaspersky Lab will relocate to Zurich its ‘software build conveyer’ — a set of programming tools used to assemble ready to use software out of source code. Before the end of 2018, Kaspersky Lab products and threat detection rule databases (AV databases) will start to be assembled and signed with a digital signature in Switzerland, before being distributed to the endpoints of customers worldwide. The relocation will ensure that all newly assembled software can be verified by an independent organisation and show that software builds and updates received by customers match the source code provided for audit.

Establishment of the first Transparency Center

The source code of Kaspersky Lab products and software updates will be available for review by responsible stakeholders in a dedicated Transparency Center that will also be hosted in Switzerland and is expected to open this year. This approach will further show that generation after generation of Kaspersky Lab products were built and used for one purpose only: protecting the company’s customers from cyberthreats.

Independent supervision and review

Kaspersky Lab is arranging for the data storage and processing, software assembly, and source code to be independently supervised by a third party qualified to conduct technical software reviews. Since transparency and trust are becoming universal requirements across the cybersecurity industry, Kaspersky Lab supports the creation of a new, non-profit organisation to take on this responsibility, not just for the company, but for other partners and members who wish to join.

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