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Uncapped is the new black

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As video-on-demand and fibre-to-the-home begins to switch on in South Africa, the public will begin to learn the real meaning of data demand – and pricing models for data will have to change, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

In the coming months, suburban South Africa will see an explosion in the use of both video-on-demand (VoD) and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH). The former will be driven by intensification of competition between ShowMax and Netflix, and the latter by the race between a growing number of start-ups laying down fibre in the suburbs. The fibre incumbent, Telkom, suddenly  finds itself up against Vumatel, Fibrehoods, Metrofibre, Maboneng Broadband and even MTN, among many others.

High-speed Internet theoretically eliminates buffering, although there’s nothing one can do about content that is housed on slow systems. However, for major commercial services like video-on-demand, the dream of instant streaming becomes reality.

Video-calling from home becomes a quality experience rather than the grainy, jerky visuals that have chased most consumers away from video chat. Online gaming tournaments where split-second reactions make all the difference are suddenly feasible. There are numerous other advantages and benefits, but there is also one major drawback: most fibre subscribers will run out of data almost as fast as they can say “Download THIS”.

The way FTTH works in South Africa is that the customer pays a once-off installation fee to the installer, such as Vumatel or Fibrehoods.  A choice is then made of service providers, who offer a range of packages based in line-speed and data allowance, either on contract or a month-to-month basis. Some of these providers will even carry the installation cost if their service is chosen.

The cheapest services start at 4Mbps with a 20GB cap (WebAfrica), at around R424 a month, and an uncapped 4Mbps service at R499 (Vox Telecom), both for month-to-month services. However, the typical FTTH customer has signed on to get serious speed and quality. Netflix itself advises a minimum speed of 5Mbps to watch streaming movies in high-definition. It says 3Mbps will do for standard definition.

What about ultra high-definition? Although the range of ultra-HD content isn’t great right now, it is accelerating fast to take advantage of new 4K TV sets and the increasing speeds of broadband. Bear in mind, most consumers investing in equipment right now are not expecting to have to repeat that spend in the next five or even ten years.

If one is already considering ultra high-definition movies, the minimum speed required is 25Mbps. For now, however, HD is expected to be the norm.

But then comes the data crunch.

According to Netflix, HD movies use about 3GB of data per hour. So if you are using Netflix to replace existing TV use, and you watch an average of 2 hours a day – and assuming only a single stream – that is already 180GB of data per month. This excludes regular Internet use, which in a typical suburban family of 4 can be well over 100GB when one adds social media, gaming, chat, YouTube binging, and trying out app after app.

This means that, to be safe, a family with fibre would need a cap of at least 400GB a month. If movies and videos are being streamed to more than one device, regularly, even that is an optimistic cap.

The real message is that, if VoD is replacing TV and you are moving existing heavy Internet use to FTTH, then uncapped makes sense.

Now it starts to get complicated. Uncapped services at reasonable speeds start at a seemingly reasonable R799 (from Cool Ideas and XDSL) – but there is a massive discrepancy between download and upload speeds: both offer 20Mbps down and 2Mbps up. Which is fine if one is only watching movies, but not much better than ADSL for high-speed gaming, video calls and anything else requiring high speed in both directions.

In short, the cheapest fast-download uncapped offers may well provide an experience equivalent to ADSL.

The weakness of ADSL lurks in the meaning of the acronym: “asynchronous digitals subscriber line”. The asynchronous part means you get about a tenth of the download speed for uploads. A line running – if you’re lucky – at 8Mbps downloads typically gives only about 0.8Mbps uploads. Hence the horrible quality of Skype video chats on typical ADSL lines.

The cheapest FTTH deals, then are also asynchronous, making them ADSL alternatives rather than the full experience of fibre. Cool Ideas offers uncapped 20Mbps up and down at R899, while XDSL offers the same at R999.

While both offer free installation and only a month-to-month commitment, the drawback of the sub-R1000 options is that most still do not deliver on the future that fibre promises. Based on currently available content, websites and behaviours, a no-limits service would start at around 50Mbps down, while some level of asynchronicity would be tolerable, i.e. from 5Mbps upward.

Here again, Cool Ideas leads the way with a 50/5Mbps uncapped package at R999, while a 50/50Mbps service comes in at R1099. The equivalent priced service from MWEB and Vox Telecom, with the same speeds, have 500GB and 400GB caps respectively, just scraping in to the minimum that a highly-connected family would need.

The truly high-speed home or office may well be looking at 100Mbps speeds, and here the cost shoots up, with Cool Ideas offering an uncapped 100/10Mbps service for R1499, and XDSL at R1549. The 100/100Mbps service from Cool ideas goes up only slightly, to R1599. At the time of writing, no one else seems to be offering uncapped services at these speeds, although Cell C is trialling its service.

MWEB offers an insanely fast 1Gbps download service, with 100Mbps up, but astonishingly places a data cap on it – a mere 500GB. The R2499 cost may be dirt cheap compared to an equivalent service just five years ago, but customers of the service would want a bit of uncapped to go with it.

The bottom line for both customers and service providers is to appreciate that isn’t their father’s ADSL. In a new content world, with quality of image and format rising fast and data demand going up even faster, uncapped is the new black.

Speeds may vary, and different usage will require different speeds. But just as ADSL as we know it is no longer good enough, service providers’ current data caps are out of sync with the content explosion these same service providers are promising.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Load-shedding leads
local searches

South Africans are searching in the dark, according to the latest Google Search trends.

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With more 1 million search queries generated in the space of 76 hours, load-shedding was by far the top trending search on Google South Africa this week.

Valentine’s Day came a distant second.

After news emerged last Sunday of the impending stage 3 load shedding, South Africans had generated more than 1-million load-shedding search queries by the time Tuesday came around:

  • “Loadshedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Eskom load shedding” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding Cape Town” – generated more than 50k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 400k on Monday
  • “Load shedding Johannesburg” – generated more than 20k searches on Monday
  • Load shedding schedule” generated more than 200k search queries on Tuesday

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, South Africans generated close to 300k search queries related to the romantic festival, including searches for quotes and gift ideas:

  • “Valentines Day” generated more than 100k search queries on Thursday
  • “Happy Valentines Day Images” and “Valentines Day Images” generated more than 10k search queries each on Thursday, with “Happy Valentines Day 2019” generating more than 20k search queries on Wednesday
  • “Valentines Day Specials 2019” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Love quotes” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Valentines Day quotes” generated more than 100k search queries and “Valentine messages” generated more than 50 000 search queries on Wednesday

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40

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Showmax invites
student films

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Thanks to the growing popularity of video-on-demand services, there’s a new opportunity to help kickstart the careers of local filmmakers.

Numerous Hollywood blockbusters (District 9Tomb Raider 2018, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron to name a few) have featured substantial shoots in Johannesburg and Cape Town. While providing great opportunities for SA’s production talent, aspiring writers and directors don’t get the same benefit.

So where can local creatives showcase their work? Broadcast TV isn’t a natural home for unknown short films, and while self-publishing platforms are readily available hosting options, it’s tough to get noticed and get traffic when competing with videos from across the planet.

But with the emergence of video-on-demand services into the mainstream, there’s now a solution. The African film school AFDA has teamed up with the streaming service Showmax to give local talent a much larger platform than ever before. From 18 February, eighteen of the best recent short films made by AFDA students from their Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth campuses will be live on Showmax. Drama, documentary, fantasy, and animation are all represented, in pieces running from under eight minutes to almost half-an-hour long. The full list of movies is included below.

Teresa Passchier, CEO of AFDA, said: “AFDA, Africa’s number-one school for the Creative Economy, is proud to kickstart this exciting and meaningful journey with Showmax and AFDA students, ensuring emerging young African filmmakers’ voices are heard and given a platform. It’s ground-breaking to share young, local, culturally relevant content on the same platform as Hollywood blockbusters. I am certain that this unique initiative will serve to boost and develop the African film industry and the careers of many young South African and African students alike.”

Included in the short films coming to Showmax are the award winners Junior and O-PunchaJunior, directed by Bert Dijkstra, picked up the Audience Award in the Made in South Africa Competition at the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival Awards 2017. O-Puncha, directed by Adam Hansen, won two awards at the 5th annual Eldorado Film Festival: Best Student Made Short, and Best Editing – Alexander La Cock.

Another celebrated film is Sicela Amanzi directed by Mlu Godola, which talks to the subject of water shortage. The film’s heroine Zoleka is a mild-mannered young woman forced to go to extreme lengths when a small community’s only source of water unexpectedly collapses. The power of films like this is they shine a light on critical topical issues in new ways.

Speaking about working with the film school, Candice Fangueiro, Head of Content for Showmax, said: “There’s immense depth of filmmaking talent in Africa and it’s a privilege to be able to give that talent a home and a platform. Showmax is becoming part of the fabric of film and TV production in Africa, and importantly we’re doing this as a partner rather than just as a consumer. This is a key competitive advantage of being local and something we aim to continue to work on.”

AFDA is an Academy Award-winning institution, founded in 1994, and the first and only African film school to win an Oscar – for the Best Foreign Student film in 2006, the postgraduate film Elalini, directed by Tristan Holmes.

The full list of AFDA short films coming to Showmax is as follows:

Film titleDirectorGenre
Lullaby from the CryptKeenan Lott & Raven DavidsAnimation
Ko Ga CherenyaneSibonokuhle MyatazaDocumentary
IzilwaneKyllian RouxDrama
MallemeuleJaco Van BoschDrama
Canal StreetBrodie MuirheadDrama
On the FenceWarrick BewsDrama
The Righteous FewLindo LangaDrama
Hlogoma PeakLuke AhrensDrama
Frozen FlameCameron HeathmanAnimation
WolfBrett van DortFantasy
The Walk HomeSisanda DyantyiDrama
BearWesley RoodtDrama
JuniorBert DijkstraDrama
O-PunchaAdam HansenDrama
UmngenoSiphosethu NdungeDrama
DoreenLuvuyo Equiano NyawoseDrama
ForeverLindo LangaMusical
Sicela AmanziMlu GodolaDrama

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