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Spectrum is red herring in WOAN debate

MD of Internet Solutions, SAKI MISSAIKOS, explores the local telecommunications industry and highlights lobbying efforts, challenges and benefits to a fair marketplace, which should promote competitiveness to reduce the cost of data and services, increase access to the Internet and stimulate economic development.

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Between 1999 and 2004, Telkom’s monopoly of access to crucial international bandwidth and high-speed ADSL lines meant they could freely charge ISPs excessive fees. And they did. Inevitably, this left them with no choice but to pass costs on to their customers,.

We demanded a competitive market, and aggressively lobbied to have Telkom’s wholesale and retail divisions separated to end its monopoly. Under those conditions, we believed that South Africa’s economy and its citizens could not fully realise the benefit of the Internet.

It was a long, tough battle, and it was a great day – I remember it very well –  when in 2012 the Competition Commission ruled that Telkom was engaged in ‘bullying’ and ‘anti-competitive’ business practises.

Does industry not want a competitive, fair and level playing field?

To my frustration, both in and outside the context of the wholesale open access network (WOAN) debate, it appears that our local telecommunications industry is working against what should be the bedrock of our industry – a competitive, fair and level playing field.  Companies with vested interests in their smaller monopolies are cocooning themselves in legal posturing, adopting a protectionist stance for short-term financial gains.

South Africa’s Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are nervous about the WOAN model proposed by government and are vocal in their opposition. The irony is that the conventional MNO is starting to sound like and resemble our old fixed line operator.

Arguably, what the MNOs are trying to protect are new business models that establish themselves as ISPs. This is a natural evolution of a telecommunications landscape once dominated by ‘voice’ services that are history compared to the demand for Internet connectivity and data.

The era of wireless communications

As we continue to communicate for work and play in a new era of wireless communications, the market must open up.  Indeed, it is vital that Internet access is unbundled from other value-chain activities.  It happened with Telkom, and now it must happen in the mobile space.

I have no doubt that this will stimulate opportunities for new competitors, deliver better pricing, and usher in a more competitive, fairer marketplace.  The winners will be South Africa and South Africans.

Achieving the outcomes of the ICT policy white paper

Let’s stop being side-tracked by the obsession with spectrum.  In a country like South Africa, the communication needs of wide-spread rural communities and more densely-populated cities means that newer technologies like 5G cannot simply take over from legacy wireless systems like 3G and even 2G. They will still exist alongside for many years to come.

Any qualified engineer in the industry will tell you that there’s enough spectrum.  The key is how we use it – or indeed abuse it.

If more competition – to reduce the cost of data and services, increase access to the Internet and stimulate economic development – really is government’s aim, as stated in the 2016 ICT policy white paper, then a WOAN is not the answer.

After all, no matter who or what kind of enterprise holds a monopoly, network monopolies bring high prices.  This is a barrier to access for many South Africans, and negatively impacts the economy and society.  The fundamentals of economics dictate that competition reduces abuse of market dominance, and produces exactly the price and service results that government wants.

A WOAN is not the answer, but many WOANs may well be.

I propose that MNOs are compelled to completely separate their wholesale and retail businesses as a first step towards achieving the desired outcomes detailed in government’s ICT policy white paper.  This wholesale / retail divorce has sound precedence that should not be ignored.  At a wholesale level, there’ll be full price transparency, and all ISPs will be able to compete fairly at a retail level.

By compelling MNOs to fully separate their wholesale and retail businesses, we achieve several positive outcomes:

  1. Industry entrants and existing players that do not own their own infrastructure can build their businesses on the investments made by others, increasing the depth of the market and providing consumers – be they individuals who still want voice services or large enterprises wholly dependent on fibre – with all the benefits of more competition and choice;
  2. Entities that own infrastructure still profit from their investments, encouraging further development of the industry and maintenance of South Africa’s network, which, when compared to much of the continent, is far superior;
  3. A WOAN controlled by a government- or industry-body could be launched in parallel with leftover spectrum.  This will create a comparative environment that allows all the industry to evaluate the viability of the model for our market;
  4. There is reduced opportunity for any industry player to ingratiate itself with the body managing the WOAN for spectrum or any other market advantage; and
  5. Allocation of spectrum to those operators that want it – through application or auction – will not be delayed because of a prolonged industry consultation that must precede any significant policy shift.

The commercial interests of South Africa’s MNOs and ISPs are not at odds with government’s ideals of accessible, affordable, quality internet connectivity and communications services for all citizens.

We all share these ideals, but they are only achievable in a commercially-sound business environment. Regulation must be formulated in the interests of consumers and within a legislative framework that prevents market abuse and eliminates barriers to entry. It must embrace, encourage, and stimulate competition, which gives local, even neighbourhood, operators an opportunity to thrive if they develop compelling product and service offerings that perhaps national service providers cannot.

Since its inception in 1993, Internet Solutions has been championing a fair and competitive market and we are not going to stop.  We believe that it is not only our duty, but also the duty of the entire telecommunications industry to fight for the right of South Africa to enjoy all the social and economic benefits of the Internet that come about when it is accessible and affordable to all.

I am not convinced that a WOAN can give South Africa these things, but WOANS can.

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News fatigue shifts Google searches in SA

Google search trends in South Africa reveal a startling insight into news appetite, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The big searches of the year no longer track the biggest news stories of the year, suggesting a strong dose of news fatigue among South Africans.

“People ask, why are the Guptas not on the list of Google’s top searches?, says Mich Atagana, head of communications and public affairs at Google South Africa, “The Guptas are not on the list because South Africans are not actually that interested. South Africans are looking for things they don’t know. From a Gupta point of view, we’ve been exhausted by the news and we know exactly what is going on.”

Google South Africa announced the results of its 2018 Year in Search, offering a unique perspective on the year’s major moments.

“Four years ago, there were almost no South Africans on the personalities list,” says Atagana. “Over the years, South Africans have gotten more interested in South Africa, in searching on Google.”

That isn’t to say that international searches – like Meghan Markle – are not heavily searched by South Africans. But  they feature lower down on the lists.

From the World Cup to listeriosis, Zuma and Global Citizen, South Africans use search to find the things they really need to know.

These are the main trends revealed  by Google this week:

Top trending South African searches

  1. World Cup fixtures
  2. Load shedding
  3. Global Citizen
  4. Zuma
  5. Winnie Mandela
  6. HHP
  7. Listeriosis
  8. Black Panther
  9. Meghan Markle
  10. Mac Miller

Trending personalities

  1.    Jacob Zuma
  2. Cyril Ramaphosa
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Kevin Anderson
  5. Malusi Gigaba
  6. Ashwin Willemse
  7. Patrice Motsepe
  8. Cheryl Zondi
  9. Shamila Batohi
  10. Mlindo the Vocalist

Top Questions

  1. How did Avicii die?
  2. How old is Pharrell Williams?
  3. What is listeriosis?
  4. What is black data?
  5. How old is Prince Harry?
  6. How much are Global Citizen tickets?
  7. How to get pregnant?
  8. What time is the royal wedding?
  9. What happened to HHP?
  10. How old is Meghan Markle?

Top ‘near me’ searches

  1. Jobs near me
  2. Nandos near me
  3. Dischem near me
  4. McDonalds near me
  5. Guest house near me
  6. Postnet near me
  7. Steers near me
  8. Spar near me
  9. Debonairs near me
  10. Spur near me

Top women

  1. Winnie Mandela
  2. Meghan Markle
  3. Sbahle Mpisane
  4. Aretha Franklin
  5. Khloe Kardashian
  6. Sophie Ndaba
  7. Cheryl Zondi
  8. Demi Lovato
  9. Lerato Sengadi
  10. Siam Lee

The Year In Search 2018 minisite can be found here.

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Smartphones dip in 2018

According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, worldwide smartphone shipments are expected to decline by 3% in 2018 before returning to low single-digit growth in 2019 and through 2022.

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While the on-going U.S.-China trade war has the industry on edge, IDC still believes that continued developments from emerging markets, mixed with potential around 5G and new product form factors, will bring the smartphone market back to positive growth.

Smartphone shipments are expected to drop to 1.42 billion units in 2018, down from 1.47 billion in 2017. However, IDC expects year-over-year shipment growth of 2.6% in 2019. Over the long-term, smartphone shipments are forecast to reach 1.57 billion units in 2022. From a geographic perspective, the China market, which represented 30% of total smartphone shipments in 2017, is finally showing signs of recovery. While the world’s largest market is still forecast to be down 8.8% in 2018 (worse than the 2017 downturn), IDC anticipates a flat 2019, then back to positive territory through 2022. The U.S. is also forecast to return to positive growth in 2019 (up 2.1% year over year) after experiencing a decline in 2018.

The slow revival of China was one of the reasons for low growth in Q3 2018 and this slowdown will persist into Q1 2019 as the market is expected to drop by 3% in Q4 2018. Furthermore, the recently lifted U.S. ban on ZTE had an impact on shipments in Q3 2018 and created a sizable gap that is yet to be filled heading into 2019.

“With many of the large global companies focusing on high-end product launches, hoping to draw in consumers looking to upgrade based on specifications and premium devices, we can expect head-to-head competition within this segment during the holiday quarter and into 2019 to be exceptionally high,” said Sangeetika Srivastava, senior research analyst with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers.

Though 2018 has fallen below expectations so far, the worldwide smartphone market is set to pick up on the shift toward larger screens and ultra-high-end devices. All the big players have further built out their portfolios with bigger screens and higher-end smartphones, including Apple’s new launch in September. In Q3 2018, the 6-inch to less than 7-inch screen size band became the most prominent band for the first time with more than four times year-over-year growth. IDC believes that larger-screen smartphones (5.5 inches and above) will lead the charge with volumes of 947.1 million in 2018, accounting for 66.7% of all smartphones, up from 623.3 million units and 42.5% share in 2017. By 2022, shipments of these larger-screen smartphones will move up to 1.38 billion units or 87.7% of overall shipment volume.

“What we consider a so-called normal size smartphone has shifted dramatically in a few short years and while we are stretching the limits with bezel-less devices, the next big switch to flexible screens will test our imaginations even further,” said Melissa Chau, associate research director with IDC’s Worldwide Mobile Device Trackers. “While this category of device is still nascent and won’t see major adoption in the year ahead, it’s exciting to see changes to the standard monoblock we are all so used to carrying.”

Platform Highlights

Android: Android’s smartphone share will remain stable at 85% throughout the forecast. Volumes are expected to grow at a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7% with shipments approaching 1.36 billion in 2022. Android is still the choice of the masses with no shift expected. Android average selling prices (ASPs) are estimated to grow by 9.6% in 2018 to US$258, up from US$235 in 2017. IDC expects this upward trajectory to continue through the forecast, but at a softened rate from 2019 and beyond. Not only are market players pushing upgraded specs and materials to offset decreasing replacement rates, but they are also serving the evolving consumer needs for better performance.

iOS: iOS smartphones are forecast to drop by 2.5% in 2018 to 210.4 million. The launch of expensive and bigger screen iOS smartphones in Q3 2018 helped Apple to raise its ASP, simultaneously making it somewhat difficult to increase shipments in the current market slump. IDC is forecasting iPhone shipments to grow at a five-year CAGR of 0.1%, reaching volumes of 217.3 million in 2022. Despite the challenges, there is no ambiguity that Apple will continue to lead the global premium market segment.

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