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Falling costs propel broadband – but Africa lags

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Figures released today by ITU confirm strong sustained demand for information and communication technology (ICT) services, with uptake spurred by a steady fall in the price of broadband Internet.

ITU’s The World in 2013: ICT Facts and Figures report predicts that there will soon be as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as people inhabiting the planet, with the figure set to nudge past the seven billion mark early in 2014. More than half of all mobile subscriptions are now in Asia, which remains the powerhouse of market growth, and by the end of 2013 overall mobile penetration rates will have reached 96% globally, 128% in the developed world, and 89% in developing countries.

With many markets saturated, and penetration at over 100% in four of the six ITU world regions, mobile-cellular uptake is already slowing substantially, with growth rates falling to their lowest levels ever in both the developed and developing worlds.

Internet

ITU estimates that 2.7 billion people or 39% of the world’s population will be using the Internet by end 2013.

Internet access, however, will remain limited in the developing world, with only 31% of the population forecast to be online at the end of 2013, compared with 77% in the developed world. Europe will remain the world’s most connected region with 75% Internet penetration, largely outpacing Asia and the Pacific (32%) and Africa (16%).

Household Internet penetration often considered the most important measure of Internet access continues to rise. By end 2013, ITU estimates that 41% of the world’s households will be connected to the Internet.

Over the past four years, household access has grown fastest in Africa, with an annual growth rate of 27%. But despite a positive general trend, 90% of the 1.1 billion households around the world that are still unconnected are in the developing world.

Speaking to government Ministers gathered at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Tour√© said: ‚”We have made the most extraordinary progress in the first twelve years of the new millennium‚Ķand yet we still have far to go. Two thirds of the world’s population some 4.5 billion people is still offline. This means that two thirds of the world’s people are still locked out of the world’s biggest and most valuable library. Two thirds of the world’s people are still refused access to the world’s biggest market place. And two thirds of the world’s people are still denied the extraordinary opportunities now available to the other third. Mobile broadband is clearly going to be a vital part of the solution, and we must continue to ‚’mobilize’ to ensure that all the world’s people have affordable, equitable access to the Internet.‚”

‚”Near-ubiquitous mobile penetration makes mobile cellular the ideal platform for service delivery in developing countries,‚” said Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. ‚”Our new m-Powering Development initiative is designed to leverage this potential across markets worldwide, and especially in rural and remote communities.‚”

Pricing

The cost of fixed-broadband services has dropped precipitously over the past five years, declining by 82% if measured as a share of GNI per capita. But in developing countries, residential fixed-broadband services remain expensive, accounting for just over 30% of average monthly GNI per capita compared to just 1.7% of average national income in wealthy countries.

Broadband is most affordable in Europe, where a basic subscription costs on average less than 2% of GNI per capita. In some developing countries, that figure rises to well over 50%.

Differences in high-speed broadband Internet access still persist. Star performers in terms of access speeds are the Republic of Korea, Hong Kong (China) and Japan, alongside some surprise top performers in Europe, including Bulgaria, Iceland and Portugal. In Africa, fewer than 10% of fixed-broadband subscriptions offer speeds of at least 2Mbit/s a situation also reflected in several countries in Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and the Arab world.

Gender

The report also reveals for the first time global figures on the number of women (1.3 billion) and men (1.5 billion) using the Internet. The figures represent 37% of all women, compared with 41% of all men but the gender gap is more pronounced in the developing world, where 16% fewer women than men use the Internet, compared with only 2% fewer women than men in the developed world. However, despite the disparities, the gender gap continues to close, with access to mobile technology increasingly within reach of women worldwide.

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Telcos want one face

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The investments that telecommunications service providers are making in reshaping their online properties into customer-centric portals reflects the growing maturity of self-service and Internet uptake in the industry, says KEVIN MELTZER of Consology.

Many telcos around the world are overhauling their websites to offer customers more holistic portals that give them a single point of entry into the organisation.

They are doing so because they recognise that service will be a key point of differentiation for their businesses in a market that is becoming increasingly competitive. They have also realised that they have a major opportunity to shift customers away from expensive contact centres towards low-cost electronic channels.

In the past, most telecommunications operators ran multiple sites across multiple domains and subdomains. These web-based properties were built around the way that telcos structured their own businesses rather than around the needs of the customer. But we are now seeing the leading operators take a more user-centric approach to the way that they design their web and mobile sites.

This coincides with a change in the industry from slicing customers into numerous segments and then serving them across a range of functional and product areas. For example, many operators split customers into prepaid and postpaid segments or voice and data users, distinctions that are becoming less meaningful in a world of technology convergence. They now want to present a single face to the customer rather than servicing the subscriber through silos.

These changes are starting to percolate through to operators’ customer service and sales strategies. Telcos are starting to pull together disparate products and services that once resided across multiple sites into customer service portals.

These sites put a wide range of information at the subscriber’s fingertips, he adds. Increasingly, for example, subscribers can log directly into their accounts from the operator’s homepage and then access a wealth of services and information. This marks an evolution from the fractured and inconsistent customer experience of the past.

Leading operators are even thinking about how their Self-Service platforms should be integrated with social media strategies to allow customers to pay their electronic bills or top up airtime with a single click from within a social network.

Whereas Self-Service portals on telco sites were once purely about account management functions, they increasingly offer far richer functionality. In addition to allowing subscribers to pay their bills and check their account information, they are also increasingly becoming the first stop for service and commerce.

Operators have started to recognise that splintering their e-commerce, service and account management functions simply makes no sense. Customers want to be able to do everything through one interface rather than needing to visit two or three Web sites, or eventually possibly needing to phone a call centre or visit a store for certain transactions.

Integrated and easy to use online customer service channels will be central for telco operators who want to be competitive in the markets of tomorrow. They form an advantage in an industry where it will be customer relationships rather than cost or service that drive loyalty and purchasing decisions.

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Talk for less with MWEB Talk

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Today, MWEB announced its consumer VoIP package called MWEB Talk, which allows users to make free network calls and get discounted rates made to landlines and mobile phones.

MWEB, today launched its new Voice over IP (VoIP) offering to South African consumers. The service, MWEB Talk, will offer users’ free on network calls to fellow MWEB Talk users’ and cheap calls to landline and mobile phone numbers. This follows the success and demand of the ISP’s existing VoIP products in recent months.

‚”We have seen a noticeable transformation in users’ Internet behaviour with consumers wanting services that complement their ADSL connectivity solution. We have seen phenomenal growth and by the end of the year will deliver over 100 million minutes on our VoIP platform,‚” says Carolyn Holgate, General Manager of MWEB Connect, the ISP’s Consumer and Small Office/ Home Office Division.

MWEB has made significant investments in its infrastructure and VoIP has been prioritised on its network to ensure performance and stability of the MWEB Talk service for both businesses and consumers.

‚”In addition to the high quality of the service, MWEB Talk is also simple to set-up and users’ should experience a significant reduction in their telephone bills. By implementing a VoIP service consumers and small businesses can cut their monthly telecommunication bills by up to 55% to landline and mobile numbers,‚” says Holgate.

With no subscription fee, existing MWEB customers can log into their MWEB account, register for the service and download the application for PC and Mac as well as mobile applications that turn an iPhone, Android, and Nokia smartphone into a VoIP phone. Customers will also be able to purchase a Desktop VoIP Handset for R99 which will be HD voice ready and will support multi-extensions.

‚”We believe that VoIP is the future of telephony in South Africa and we are extremely excited to see the consumer market shift into the VoIP space,‚” concludes Holgate.

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