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Take data toll-free

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Many businesses are adopting a data toll-free approach, where consumers can access a company’s website without having to pay for any data usage, writes ECKART ZOLLNER, Head of Business Development at Jasco Group.

A recent emerging global trend that is disrupting traditional data payment responsibility, is that of businesses offering their consumers free online access to their websites or other online platforms. Usually, consumers who wish to access a business’s online services, particularly via mobile channels, need to have enough data to do so – or they simply don’t go online at all. This has incited many businesses and service providers in South Africa to begin offering free access to their sites regardless of whether the consumer has any data left or not – but who covers the data costs?

The concept of offering toll free access to customer service channels isn’t a new one. Toll-free numbers that enable consumers to call businesses, at no charge to themselves, are still in effect today for both customer care and the selling of services and products. Today’s consumer, however, is more likely to access a business’s services, products or customer care centre via the Internet than over the telephone, meaning that businesses have had to change the way they offer their toll-free services to their market, shifting the same concept to an online platform.

At what price?

Data charges for accessing these “toll-free” platforms are invariably covered by the businesses who own the platforms, or websites. A business wishing to provide their consumers with free access to their sites – data or not – strikes up an agreement with one or many network operators which allows them to cover the charges for anyone who accesses their online site or platform. The charges that the person accessing the site would usually incur simply gets redirected to the business site owner.

Businesses offering this service can end up with hefty data bills, particularly for high traffic sites, however the benefits more than make up for the costs. Although there is the risk of incurring data charges which don’t result in sales, offering free access to their online portals means that businesses are able to effectively remove almost any barrier for consumers – potential and existing – to access their products and services. This translates directly into more site visits which means more sales and, ultimately, increased profits.

The disruptor differentiator

Providing free access to online portals also enables a business to stand out from its competition. It differentiates the business from others of its kind, and consumers are more likely to visit their site, free of charge, than those sites which require that they use their own data. Consumers see the perceived value of this service and are able to immediately feel the tangible effects thereof. They can “window shop” at no cost to themselves, which increases the possibility of impulse buying and serves to heighten the reputation of the business in their eyes. It’s a definite brand activator.

Despite the incurred data charges, businesses offering this service could actually end up saving costs. Businesses could shift most of their operations online and do away with physical, brick-and-mortar premises. This means fewer physical shops or offices, fewer employees and less need for infrastructure, all of which drag heavily at the bottom line.

Finally, businesses are able to tap into heretofore untouched markets. Consumers who would ordinarily have to travel for kilometres can access products and services at their fingertips – for free! Consumers who tend to use up all of their data before their month is up can still access platforms without worrying about the data charges. Suddenly, a business’s customer base can expand radically.

Integration is key

Any business who wishes to offer toll-free access to their sites and online platforms firstly needs a mobile commerce platform which will enable this functionality. Their platform must be able to integrate with their current operational systems, software, billing platforms and even customer relationship management systems.

Integration is critical to this process, to ensure full functionality and service delivery. A business would also need to engage with one or more network providers to ensure the charges for accessing their site, or specific portions of their site, are redirected to themselves and not to their customers.

Paving the way

Toll-free online access is the tip of the iceberg for similar services aimed at making it easier for consumers to access and buy products and services online. There are many other disruptive services starting to emerge in South Africa to simplify the buying process and widen the customer base. For example, companies that offer cardless purchasing, where consumers who don’t have access to credit or debit cards are able to use a ‘middle man’ platform to pay for products and services – consumers “buy” credit from a third-party provider, such as a mobile money service provider, who then pays the supplier for them.

It’s a short hop and a skip to a world of Internet shopping in which consumers are unencumbered by traditional shopper problems such as lack of accessibility or lack of a bank account, and South African businesses are acting quickly to be a part of it.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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