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Cell C to roam on MTN amid Telkom buy-out talks

South Africa’s troubled third mobile network operator will solve some of its accessibility issues with the new roaming deal, as a potential acquisition by Telkom looms, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Cell C has signed a nationwide roaming agreement with MTN that will address some of the issues facing South Africa’s beleaguered third mobile network operator.  The company says the agreement will enable network innovation, and promote efficient network infrastructure utilisation. it will also form the basis for “sustainable investment in network infrastructure”.

Cell C and MTN have had an initial roaming agreement in place since 2018, but providing 3G and 4G services only in areas outside of the main metros. The expanded agreement extends this coverage to nationwide roaming. Cell C says it will see 4G network coverage extended to 95% of the population, giving customers will have access to over 12,500 sites, of which 90% are LTE enabled. 

This addresses one of the main issues experienced by Cell C customers, namely patchy reception and coverage. The result of limited service was that, while it had a 16-million-plus user base, it had difficulty turning this vast clientele into profit.

Subsequently, Telkom has expressed interest in acquiring Cell C, to bolster its fast-growing mobile division. Its latest interim results for the six months ending September 2019 revealed it had grown 75% year-on-year to 11.5-million. A merger of the two mobile operations would bring Telkom/Cell C to around 29-million users, making it a direct market share rival to MTN’s 28.9-million at the end of September – down from 29.2-million the previous quarter. Vodacom reported a massive lead in its interim results to the end of September, with 43.8-million users – ironically also down marginally from the previous year’s 44-million.

The roaming agreement will strengthen Cell C’s service offering, while boosting revenue for MTN

“This is a pivotal step in Cell C’s turnaround strategy,” says Douglas Craigie Stevenson, CEO of Cell C. “One of the key pillars of this turnaround is to implement a revised network strategy that enables Cell C to manage its network capacity requirements in a more cost-efficient and scalable manner.”

Cell C says the agreement is in line with shifts in the global telecoms industry towards more cost-effective network strategies that drive down costs and deliver greater operational efficiencies that ultimately benefit consumers. 

“This roaming agreement is transformative for Cell C,” says Craigie Stevenson. “The company is no longer encumbered by the high costs of building a network footprint and we can focus our energy and efforts into developing innovative and disruptive service offerings that will be welcomed by data-hungry consumers.  This is a win-win all round as it has long-term benefits for the economy, the industry and ultimately consumers.”

The implementation of the expanded roaming agreement will take around 36 months, commencing in early 2020. Cell C and MTN will maintain their own spectrum and each party will use its own frequencies, ensuring they comply with regulatory requirements. This also means Cell C will still have all of its licences and control its core network, transmission, billing system and subscriber management.  

Cell C says its turnaround strategy is focused on ensuring operational efficiencies, restructuring its balance sheet, implementing a revised network strategy and improving overall liquidity. 

Since reporting a loss of R8-billion for the financial year ending May 2019, says Cell C, it has seen incremental improvements to the bottom-line as the operational efficiencies start to have a positive impact on the financial performance of the company.

Zaf Mahomed, chief financial officer of Cell C, says: “The management focus on retaining profitable customers and expenditure savings has generated meaningful positive cash flow improvement on a month on month basis. It is a good sign that we are doing the right things and are on the road to recovery.” 

He says Cell C continues to pursue a recapitalisation, which will improve the company’s overall liquidity.  Independent financial and legal advisers have been appointed representing the lenders,  and “constructive discussions on the recapitalisation are underway with them and other stakeholders in respect of various proposals”.

Cell C’s loss also resulted in the worst financial performance yet from Blue Label telecoms, which bought a 45% stake in the company for R5.5-billion in 2016. For the year ending May 2019, it reported a net loss of R6.6-billion, of which more than half was attributable to its stake in Cell C.

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Alexa can now read all messages

For the first time, an Alexa skill is available that makes it possible to listen to any kind of message while driving

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For the first time, Alexa users can now hear all their messages and email read aloud.

Amazon’s Alexa has become a household name. The world’s most popular virtual assistant is getting smarter every day and now, with Amazon Echo Auto, it’s in cars too. 

“In today’s highly connected world, messaging in the form of emails, texts, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and work channels like Slack, are integral to our daily routine,” says Barrie Arnold, chief revenue officer at ping. “However, distracted driving is responsible for more than 25% of car crashes and thousands of preventable fatalities every year.” 

ping, a specialist in voice technology founded by Arnold and South African Garin Toren, has developed a new Alexa skill as a companion to its patented smartphone app, that enables any message type to be read aloud. Designed for safety, productivity and convenience, “pingloud” is the first skill of its kind for keeping users connected when they need a hand or an extra pair of eyes.

“The ping Alexa skill is specifically designed to help drivers stay off their phones while giving them exactly what they want – access to their messages.” says Toren, ping CEO. 

Opening up Alexa to developers has resulted in an explosion of new skills available either for free or for a fee that unlocks premium services or features. These tools magnify the usefulness of Alexa devices beyond common tasks like asking for the weather, playing music or requesting help on a homework assignment. According to App Annie, the most downloaded apps in 2019 were Facebook Messenger, Facebook’s main app and WhatsApp, highlighting the importance of messaging. 

“The ping Android app is available worldwide from the Google Pay Store, reading all messages out loud in 30 languages,” says Toren. “The iOS version is in global beta testing with the US launch coming very soon.” 

Once you’ve signed up for ping, it takes a few seconds to link with Alexa, enabling all messages and emails to be read aloud by a smart speaker or Echo Auto device. Simply say, “Hey Alexa, open pingloud.” ping links an account to a voice profile so unauthorised users with access to the same Alexa cannot ask for the authorised user’s messages.

All major message types are supported, including Texts/SMS, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Snapchat, Slack, Telegram, Twitter DM’s, Instagram, and all email types. Promotional and social emails are not read by default.

*For more information, visit www.pingloud.com

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Coronavirus to hit 5G

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Global 5G smartphone shipments are expected to reach 199 million units in 2020, after disruption caused by the coronavirus scare put a cap on sales forecasts, according to the latest research from Strategy Analytics.

Ken Hyers, Director at Strategy Analytics, said, “Global 5G smartphone shipments will grow more than tenfold from 19 million units in 2019 to 199 million in 2020. The 5G segment will be the fastest-growing part of the worldwide smartphone industry this year. Consumers want faster 5G smartphones to surf richer content, such as video or games. We forecast 5G penetration to rise from 1 percent of all smartphones shipped globally in 2019 to 15 percent of total in 2020.”

Ville-Petteri Ukonaho, Associate Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “China, United States, South Korea, Japan and Germany are by far the largest 5G smartphone markets this year. The big-five countries together will make up 9 in 10 of all 5G smartphones sold worldwide in 2020. However, other important regions, like India and Indonesia, are lagging way behind and will not be offering mass-market 5G for at least another year or two.”

Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics, added, “The global 5G smartphone industry is growing quickly, but the ongoing coronavirus scare and subsequent economic slowdown will put a cap on overall 5G demand this year. The COVID-19 outbreak is currently restricting smartphone production in Asia, disrupting supply chains, and deterring consumers from visiting retail stores to buy new 5G devices in some parts of China. The first half of 2020 will be much weaker than expected for the 5G industry, but we expect a strong bounce-back in the second half of the year if the coronavirus spread is brought under control.”

Exhibit 1: Global 5G Smartphone Shipments Forecast in 2020 1

Global Smartphone Shipments (Millions of Units)20192020
5G19199
Rest of Market13941165
Total14131364
 
Global Smartphone Shipments (% of Total)20192020
5G1%15%
Rest of Market99%85%
Total100%100%

Source: Strategy Analytics

The full report, Global Handset Sales for 88 Countries & 19 Technologies, is published by the Strategy Analytics Emerging Device Technologies (EDT) service, details of which can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/wep83gc.

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