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OTT regulation will protect profits, not customers

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The CEO of Cell C, JOSE DOS SANTOS, hits out at MTN and Vodacom for trying to have services like WhatsApp and Facebook regulated in South Africa.

MTN and Vodacom have declared war on consumer interests. The infamous duopoly wants to limit how we use Internet services like WhatsApp – and it has nothing to do with fairness, competition or the future of South Africa. To the contrary, it is all about maintaining their stranglehold on a vital artery feeding our country’s economic and social future.

The two mobile networks have now successfully lobbied Government to investigate potentially regulating Over-The-Top (OTT) services, like WhatsApp. I suppose it was inevitable, given their views of OTT applications, Vodacom, for example, believes: “You have these [OTT] players which are getting huge benefit out of an industry without making any investment” and “Operators need to continue making a return.”

MTN has been less diplomatic.  Former MTN South Africa CEO Ahmad Farroukh was quoted as saying that MTN was not prepared to spend billions of dollars building networks just so that OTT players can get a “free ride”.  His successor, Mteto Nyati agrees.  “You have to regulate them because clearly they’re making a huge amount of revenue on top of the infrastructure that the operators have paid for. Somehow they have to contribute towards the building of this infrastructure”.

Suddenly they are concerned with “levelling the playing fields” – only now when they face competition.

Regulation itself is not necessarily a bad thing and South African telecoms regulation could definitely use a little modernisation. We need to ask serious questions about privacy, consumer rights and infrastructure sharing to reduce costs. But in this case, that is not Vodacom or MTN’s aim. Instead they are hoping to confuse the issue, rather than sticking to clear, reasonable arguments.

Regulation would impose new costs. Costs that will either prompt OTT players to withdraw their services from South Africa or push up prices for the consumer, the very consumer that already pays for the data to use those services.

It is not hard to imagine the motivation of MTN and Vodacom, as both have historically resisted any attempt to “level the playing field” in the mobile industry. They have fought number porting and the elimination of interconnect fees. These are companies that have shown no interest in the welfare of the customers who keep them in business.

We believe that OTT services encourage consumers to participate more. The more they participate, the more they spend. Cell C is still a business and must make money. But good companies adapt and change to create new opportunities for themselves and their customers. Bad companies manipulate the system to only get what they want – the customer doesn’t matter.

I invite South Africans to interrogate the motivations of companies that would support this kind of regulation.

Connectivity is key to the welfare of a 21st century nation. These platforms empower individuals and communities.  They allow people to connect and be part of a global community. Now think of all the conversations we have every day on Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Talk, Skype, WeChat and more. Consider the many services such as Gmail, Office 365, Sage Accounting and so on that allow small business to start and flourish.

OTT regulation will force extra costs on those services or force their withdrawal. It will hurt consumers and small companies. It will disadvantage everyone – everyone except the networks whose only interest resides in protecting their revenues.

Cell C has proven that by opting for partnerships instead of bullying, you can work alongside OTT services to the benefit of everyone. We offered free WhatsApp services for a year, during which Cell C customers did not spend any data to send messages. Since we have transformed this into a low R5-per-month offer and opened our free services to include Facebook.

As a consequence we have not lost customers. We have grown and those customers have grown as well. They are more connected and informed, but without needing to pay more for the privilege. No, not privilege. It’s a right. It is not fair that those with a voice are only those who can afford to have one.

As I said in the beginning, regulation of the telecommunication space is a conversation that should happen. But what MTN, Vodacom and their collaborators are trying to do is not address the big issue. They simply want to protect what they have and they are happy to sell the consumer out in order to get that.

As it stands, Cell C does not support OTT regulation in South Africa, because the only losers will be the people whose money make us all successful businesses in the first place.

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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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