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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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TikTok takes on COVID-19

The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.

Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.

Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.

The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.

One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.

@ndlovuyouthchoir

Our community has limited access to running water. Follow these instructions on how to safely wash your hands using a bucket. ##coronavirus##washinghands

♬ original sound – ndlovuyouthchoir

“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”

The page can be viewed at https://vm.tiktok.com/GHTEGf

TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources/covid-19.

If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on https://vm.tiktok.com/swKbn4. The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.

Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.

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On World Backup Day: backup, backup, backup

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It was World Backup Day yesterday, 31 March, at a time when business continuity is threatened as never before. That makes calls for protecting email and defending against ransomware all the more urgent.

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief many organisations’ lack of business continuity plans and policies. With more than two billion people around the globe in forced lockdown in wide-ranging government efforts to stem the tide of infections, an unprecedented number of employees are working remotely.

This interruption to the normal way of work is precisely what an effective and resilient business continuity strategy should plan for, says Heino Gevers, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast

“Companies need uninterrupted access to critical business applications during times of disruption, including safe and secure web and email access for workers that are now operating outside the normal perimeters of the organisation,” he says. “In addition, comprehensive backup and archiving solutions should be ready to restore access to critical business applications should there be any unplanned downtime to ensure continuity until the crisis passes.”

According to Gevers, the current global crisis is likely to push business continuity up the list of priorities for many organisations that have been disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus.

“Organisations are facing new challenges to their productivity; for example in terms of technical support. If a remote user is infected with malware or ransomware, how does the IT team restore that device or do any remediation without being able to physically access it?”

Gevers advises that organisations implement tools that enhances the data protection capabilities of commonly-used tools such as Office365 and can leverage archived data to provide quick recovery of email data in the event of accidental loss, malicious attacks or technical failure. 

“As adoption of cloud-based business applications grow in the wake of forced lockdowns around the globe, companies need to ensure they have the tools to recover in any situation,” he says. “This includes a data management strategy that combines archiving, backup and data protection capabilities to allow for quick restoration of critical systems and applications in the event of disruption.”

Jasmit Sagoo, head of technology at Veritas for the United Kingdom and Ireland, warns that this is a golden age for cybercriminals looking for ransomware opportunities.

“As the global cost of ransomware continues to grow, this World Backup Day, Veritas is saying: ‘don’t pay up, back up!’,” he says. “Ransomware is said to generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion a year, and companies who are not consistent in backing up their data are allowing criminals to line their pockets.

“Ransomware attacks exist only because some businesses can’t survive unless the hackers give them back their data.  So, the key to survival is removing that reliance and being able to regain access to data, without engaging with the cybercriminals.  The best way to do that is with a sound backup strategy.

“Sagoo advises organisations to create isolated, offline backup copies of their data to keep it out of reach of any attackers.  They then need to proactively monitor and restrict backup credentials, while running backups frequently to shrink the risk of potential data loss. Businesses should also test and retest their ransomware defences regularly.

“Ransomware strikes without warning and it doesn’t discriminate between its targets – it can happen to any organisation, large or small. Despite their best efforts, most companies will fall to at least one attack. What distinguishes one victim from another is the ability to bounce back, which ultimately depends on its backup strategy.

“When ransomware hits, organisations that aren’t prepared often feel helpless to do anything other than to submit to their attacker’s demands.   That’s why we’re urging all businesses to use World Backup Day as a catalyst to get ahead of the situation and get their data protected.”

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