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Vodacom makes smart push to become handset player

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As mobile operators struggle to maintain revenue growth in a saturated market, Vodacom’s own branded phones are making a big impact, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The numbers don’t look good for mobile operators right now.  In their most recent annual results, MTN reported group revenue up 5 per cent, running behind inflation in South Africa. Vodacom’s latest quartely results showed marginally higher growth, at 5.8%, almost catching up to inflation.

The challenge that has faced operators for several years now, as voice revenues plateau and rising data revenues don’t rise fast enough to replace the voice slow-down, has been to find new revenue streams.

Very quietly, they have been doing just that in the handset arena, with MTN punting the locally manufactured Mint devices and now getting behind the rising Chinese brand Xiaomi. Vodacome has taken a far more aggressive approach to this strategy, rolling out a wide range of devices under the brand of its parent company, Vodafone.

No less than six new Vodafone devices have been released in South Africa, with a seventh on the way. There are three likely winners as a result:

  • Vodacom itself will enjoy higher margins from its own devices;
  • Consumers will benefit from high-spec devices at low-end prices; and
  • Their manufacturer, Alcatel, will find itself in the uncustomary position of being a market leader beyond only its entry-level Pixi phones.

Alcatel manufactures Vodafone-branded smartphones by virtue of winning a tender that is put out from time to time. However, it’s not merely a matter of being able to make the phones most cheaply.

Alcatel has proven itself at both the entry-level, with its sub-R600 entry-level smartphone, the Pixi – which has at times been the top-selling phone in southern Africa – and its mid-range Idol phones. This year it also introduced the Go Play ad Pop Star ranges, aimed respectively at active and youth markets.

That cements it as a technology leader in the segments where operators see the biggest opportunity for their own brands. They can’t compete at the high end with the likes of Apple and Samsung, or even Sony and LG, whose brands are associated with both the highest quality and the top specifications available.

However, the real volume in emerging markets comes from mid-range phones costing anywhere from R2 000 to R8 000, and entry-level phones costing less than R1 000.  These are usually not the most profitable phones, as their margins are much lower than those of the big brands’ flagship devices. However, by taking out the cut that goes to the big brands, the cheaper phones suddenly become much more profitable.

In the financial year ending 31 March 2016, Vodacom sold 6,5-million smart devices, of which 25 per cent were Vodafone branded – up from 16.8 per cent a year before. The growth in revenues from this division marginally outpaced overall revenue growth.

This sets the stage for the next big growth spurt in device sales from Vodacom, as it makes the transition away from non-smart handsets. In the year to March, almost 4-million of its 10.4-million device sales fell into the latter category. In the next year, that segment will begin to vanish as the new range kicks in.

The new devices from Vodacom include:

Vodafone Smart platinum 7 LTE Smartphone

The flagship Vodacom phone retailing at a recommended price of R8509, will be available on a 24-month contract at R399 per month.

Customers will also get a Smart VR basic virtual reality headset, and a free one-year subscription to Microsoft Office 365, which includes a license for three devices and 1TB of cloud storage.

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Vodacom Smart ultra 7 LTE Smartphone

The budget alternative to the platinum, at R3 539 for purchase, and R199 per month on contract. It also comes with a one-year Microsoft Office 365 license for three devices, with 1TB of cloud storage. 

Vodacom Smart prime 7 LTE Smartphone

The entry-level big-screen smartphone, at R1 799 outright and R129 per month. Also with Microsoft Office 365 license for three devices and 1TB of cloud storage.

Vodacom Smart Kicka 2

The best value entry-level smartphone on the market, at R499 outright or R59 a month.

The Kicka is the standout devices here. Given the poor exchange rate, it is an absurdly cheap phone, with a powerful quad core processor, 1400 mAh battery, 2Mp camera and 4GB storage, expandable with a micro SD slot. It runs Android 5.1, which just a couple of years ago would have made it a cutting edge phone.

However, the big surprise comes from the flagship phone, the platinum 7. It’s 16MP rear camera produces photos as good as anything outside of the Samsung S6 and S7 devices. Those cost almost twice as much, so one would expect their images to be better, but many other phones costing far more than the Vodafone flagship cannot match its image sharpness. While the phone itself is slow, it is ideal for someone who wants a phone for the camera quality but cannot afford the top of other manufacturers’ ranges.

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 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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Huawei goes ultra-premium

Porsche Design and Huawei have launched the Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS in South Africa exclusive to MTN and retailing for R 26 459.

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The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS boasts features like the world’s first dual fingerprint design, including an in-screen fingerprint sensor, the world’s first Artificial Intelligence (AI) processor and Leica triple camera with 40MP image capture.

“After the overwhelming success of the Porsche Design Huawei Mate 10 Pro in South Africa, we now bring you our latest offering, a perfect blend of innovation in a smartphone and luxury design,” said Likun Zhao, Vice President of Huawei Consumer Business Group Southern Africa. “From three-point security feature including facial recognition, rear fingerprint scanner and the new innovative in-screen fingerprint to the Leica triple camera system. it culminates in an unprecedented experience for our customers.”

The device incorporates Porsche Design’s signature design language and Huawei’s breakthrough technology.  The phone has a 6” 2K curved OLED screen and symmetrical look, minimalist feel and 8-edged 3D curved glass body.

High performance is symbolised by the naming of the smartphone: the term “RS” in the world of Porsche motorsport stands for outstanding racing performance.

Huawei provided the following information on The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS benefits and features :

·         The world’s first dual fingerprint scanner for enhanced convenience, allowing users to wake and unlock the device simply, thanks to an in-screen fingerprint sensor. Hover to wake the device, touch to unlock it

·         The winning combination of Leica triple camera with 40MP RGB sensor technology and exceptional photography powered by Master AI. This combination puts effortless, eye-catching photography at the fingertips of those looking to immortalise their favourite moments. Combined with 5 x hybrid zoom, and the world’s first AI image stabilisation on a smartphone camera ensures photography lovers can capture the best shots with exceptional clarity in almost any situation

·         The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS is the first Huawei handset to allow quick wireless charging, making it even easier to keep the phone topped up and ready to go and, thanks to its long lasting battery, users will easily be powered through the busiest of days

·         An ‘intelligent’ smartphone, the powerful AI processor automatically tailors the performance of the phone according to how it is used – constantly learning, understanding and anticipating needs, it is the perfect personal assistant for the pocket

·         256GB of internal storage means those constantly on the go and constantly on their phone can be worry free

·         Dual SLS (super linear system) speakers with DOLBY ATMOS enable users to have a superior experience, with the best immersive surround sound and entertainment on the go

·         Splash, water and dust resistant, which means there is no need to worry about damaging the device in the rain or accidentally dropping it in water

Jan Becker, CEO Porsche Design Group, said: “Both Porsche Design and Huawei seek to imagine and develop products that stand for precision and perfection, intelligent functionality and highly sophisticated design. Our aim was to create an outstanding device that goes one step further. We believe we have reached this goal by taking our partnership to the next level.”

Porsche Design and Huawei have worked in tandem to develop a smartphone that fuses together the two brands’ DNA, wealth of experience in design and technology, industry-leading expertise and exceptional performance. Through the use of colour in the device’s body, software themes and accessories, the new handset is accentuated with Porsche Design’s distinguished aesthetic and purist, minimalist feel.

The Porsche Design Huawei Mate RS will be available to purchase exclusively from MTN at R 26 459.

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Cross-channel chat launched

Clickatell has launched a cross-channel live chat service, Touch Go, that transforms omni-channel customer care.

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It enables live chat across a company’s website as well as social platforms (Twitter and Facebook) and mobile apps, bringing customer care and engagement into a single business platform.

“Today’s consumers expect to engage with your brand on the digital channel of their choosing,” says Deon van Heerden, Clickatell Engage CEO and Group CFO. “They want to message your business and instantly have queries resolved, find the information and services they are looking for, without the need for a voice call. Clickatell’s Touch Go makes that happen with the right level of capabilities for businesses of all sizes.”

Businesses can start using Touch Go immediately, with a free Starter option. Touch Go requires no credit card for sign-up and is fully featured with a simple setup process. It offers customisable branding, a unified chat desk business application as well as reports and analytics.

As the business scales up its digital customer care, it can opt-in for the Touch Enterprise offering. Touch Enterprise is designed for scaling up customer care efforts through advanced capabilities including AI driven virtual agents, sentiment analysis, automated workflows, enterprise integrations and in-channel mini-applications.

“Customer care has become a defining factor for sustained business success ” says Nirmal Nair, Clickatell Engage EVP Product & Marketing. “In an ever-increasing mobile native world, customers often choose to interact digitally, but they also expect to be able to reach a human immediately, should they need. Monitoring multiple channels and providing immediate action becomes challenging with siloed deployments. Touch’s unified solution allows businesses of all sizes to provide the customer delight in a simple modular approach.”

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