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Data must be attacked, but by precision strike

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The campaign to target the cost of data runs the risk of missing the point, that data prices have in fact plunged – but not for the poor. By ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When a hashtag campaign tells us that #DataMustFall, it’s easy to be caught up in the outrage at high data costs and the enthusiasm for cheap data. Aside from the operators who profit when prices remain high, no one would argue against it.

But there is one flaw in the campaign: it does not make it clear which data prices must be targeted, and why.

That’s important, because it is easy for the operators to argue that data has indeed fallen. The average price of data bundles has been cut by anywhere from 20 per cent to 50 per cent, depending on which bundles from which operators one buys. As a result, the operators can complain that they are not given credit for bringing down the cost of data.

That’s a devilishly disingenuous argument, though. Data has fallen only for the wealthy and the well-off, who can afford to buy large bundles upfront. For example, someone buying a 20GB monthly bundle from Cell C or MTN will pay only R499 a month, or 2.5c per Megabyte of data. That’s among the cheapest in the world. However, to afford that kind of bundle, you need to be earning a fairly decent salary.

For a 500MB bundle, the cost is as low as R39 a month on MTN, Cell C and Telkom Mobile. That works out at 8c per Megabyte. That’s not too shabby, either.

What is shabby is that these bundles are described as affordable, based on the per Megabyte cost.

The problem is that the bundles are not being sold per Megabyte. The problem is that entry-level smartphone owners are buying data only when they use it. The problem is that pay-as-you-go data comes off airtime. And the problem is that airtime data is the most expensive data one can buy.

It works like this: pay-as-you-go data, also described as ad hoc data because it is bought only when used, is billed at the ceiling price of data. On Vodacom, that is R2 per Megabyte. On MTN it is R1, and on Cell C it’s 99c.

Why would people endure such high costs when they could be paying as little as 8c per Megabyte? There are two answers.

The first is that at least a quarter of smartphone users are not incurring those costs. They know from hearsay that the moment they activate the Internet or data access on their phones, it starts chewing into their airtime. While there are valid explanations for this phenomenon – mainly apps updating in background or apps polling servers for status updates – it is perceived as data or airtime being stolen. It is estimated that a full 25 per cent of smartphone users do not access the Internet for these and related reasons.

The second answer is one that is a matter of pure economics. Those on the lowest income levels or earning no income will still go to great lengths to buy a prepaid voice package, as communication has become a basic human need. The fact that bundles start as low as R5 for a specified number of minutes provides the clue to just how little some voice customers can afford.

Data is not perceived as an essential purchase by most people in these segments, and is almost never bought in bundles. Even bundles as small as R25, which would achieve major savings in the cost of ad hoc data, are regarded as unaffordable.

As a result, for those who cannot afford data bundles, ad hoc usage on apps like WhatsApp, Facebook and email is almost always at the ceiling price. This means it is the ceiling price of data that must fall.

The networks call these out-of-bundle rates, but that in itself is a misnomer. It implies that it is a penalty for not buying bundles, and that further implies it is the consumer’s own fault. In other words, people are being punished for being poor.

It is ironic that it is only the once-vilified Telkom that seems to have understood this message. With any airtime recharge of R5 or up on its SIM-Sonke prepaid deals, the ceiling price of data is 29c per Megabyte. That, rather than a R5 data bundle, is what one might call affordable, despite the fact that it still limits how much usage can be made of data if most of one’s bundle is needed for voice.

Since 2011, when the smartphone revolution began in earnest in South Africa, World Wide Worx has been calling for the regulator, Icasa, to put a mandatory and affordable ceiling on the price of data. That could range from 20c to 40c, but Telkom has set a good precedent at 29c per Megabyte.

This is an obvious solution, yet it appears that the authorities would rather milk the situation for as long as it can. The Minister of Communications has mandated Icasa to investigate whether high data prices are a result of lack of competition. In other words, let’s build more time and cost into the equation, rather than acknowledge what has been obvious all along.

Some have called for data prices to be halved, but that still leaves the ad hoc user paying exorbitant rates ranging from 50c to R1 per Megabyte.

Yes, data must fall. But, rather than the carpet-bombing approach taken by a one-dimensional campaign, we need a precision strike that takes out the real enemy, namely the punitive ceiling price of mobile data.

  • 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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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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