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Laptops to meet most of your needs, most of the time

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As Africa becomes better connected with the rest of the world in terms of its increasing broadband capabilities, the continent’s youth will inherently want to harness these capabilities and will therefore need an adequate telecommunications device. HENRY FERREIRA, Lenovo country general manager believes that the notebook will in many cases trump most other devices on the market.

This may be a surprising prediction, considering the relative prices of laptop computers and the ubiquitous cell phone ‚ and, indeed, smart phones and other handheld devices that have telephony components.

But, think about it. Of Africa’s more than 1.2 billion people, more than 70% are under the age of 25. This is a generation born into the technology age. It’s grown up with, at the very least, cell phones and, therefore, with the idea that communication with a wider community is not only easy, it’s natural and desirable. This generation is also acutely aware that access to information equals access to wealth generation capabilities. And it’s a generation that will automatically expect communication to be the thread that links social activities, entertainment, and work.

In other words, it’s a generation that is inherently in synch with developments in IT ‚ specifically the acceleration of convergence of communication technologies, including online video.

Also, for the majority of young Africans, cost of communications is still an issue. Voice calls remain more expensive than texting with cell phones. So, the Internet, offering cheap and easy access to much broader sources and types of information and communication, is enormously appealing.

However, while it’s entirely possible with some cell phones and other handheld devices to search the Internet or interact on Facebook, the big screen advantages of being able to scroll through large bodies of text or get the full benefit of social networking sites, including YouTube, are possible only when using a desktop or laptop computer.

Trends show that mobility is extremely important to the younger generation. So, getting mobility and big screen benefits at the same time means using a laptop computer rather than a handheld device. As has been said so often, would anyone really insist on having a tiny television screen when a normal one is available?

In addition, when it comes to working with, for example, spreadsheets, PowerPoint slides, engineering drawings, or balance sheets, there is no substitute for a full screen. Or, indeed, a full sized keyboard that enables one to work quickly and accurately ‚ and comfortably.

Also, mobile or handheld devices tend not to have the power to easily interwork with less mobile devices such as printers.

There is talk of roll-up normal-sized screens and keyboards that can be plugged into handheld devices being developed. But, the whole point of a handheld device is its convenience for carrying. Why, then, add to it items that must be carried with it, unpacked for use, and then packed away again when a work, entertainment, or social networking session is over. More convenient, surely, to simply use a laptop that has all the elements built into it?

For all these reason, we’re expecting sales of laptops to burgeon in South Africa and the rest of the continent.

That’s not to say that either the desktop computer or handheld devices will become obsolete. I don’t know a single executive who doesn’t travel with both a smart phone and a laptop computer. It’s so much easier, when you’re on the move, to use the always-on smart phone to pick up and sort through the avalanche of emails arriving in your inbox on a daily basis. And, of course, to receive those all important voice calls.

By the same token, sitting in a train to the airport or in a taxi on the way to business meeting doesn’t allow space or time to open a laptop, boot it up, link to a network, and download emails or documents. But, when there’s time and room while you’re flying between cities or sitting in your hotel room, the laptop is the more comfortable way to work.

Desktops also have their place in the computing spectrum, in large measure because they’re more affordable than laptops and smart phones. African governments, for instance, are finding that they can afford to equip more of their employees with desktop computers than with laptops. Desktops can also be expanded or upgraded more easily than mobile or smaller devices. Popping in and configuring an extra graphics card, say ‚ and boosting productivity in the organisation as a consequence – is the work of a matter of minutes. Adding a better quality screen doesn’t entail getting rid of the computer, as it would for a laptop.

As with all technology, what you use really is a matter of what your communication and mobility needs are. In most scenarios, however, the laptop is going to meet most of your needs most of the time.

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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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