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Telkom Mobile heats up Wi-Fi war

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Telkom Mobile plans to roll out 4 000 Wi-Fi hotspots across South Africa with free access to customers. The move may well ignite a Wi-Fi war, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Telkom Mobile announced yesterday that it will offer free Wi-Fi access to all South Africans at more than 1 500 Wi-Fi hotspots for the next three months. Thereafter, it will give free Wi-Fi access to its own customers.

As important as the free Wi-Fi is the number of hotspots it intends to roll out: a total of 4 000. These are sites that are already signed up, meaning they will shortly be in operation.

That effectively doubles the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots in South Africa. Telkom Mobile’s biggest competitors for hotspot heat are WirelessG, which claims 2 000 ‚”integrated hotspots‚”, and AlwaysOn, which says it has more than 1 150 hotspot locations. The cheeky upstart Skyrove says it has 600 hotspots. Add a few smaller networks with a clutch of access points each, and South Africa will have around 8 000 hotspots.

With 50% market share, Telkom Mobile fully intends using the hotspots to attract users to its services and provide services to the hotspot hosts.

‚”It’s a land grab,‚” says Amit Maharaj, senior managing executive for Telkom Mobile. ‚”We went out to secure hotspots as fast as possible. Once you’re entrenched with a venue, you can start doing things like landing pages for them, showing their menu, making loyalty offers, and things that can spin off from this offering.‚”

During a promotional period, until 15 December 2013, any member of the public will be given up to 60 minutes a day free access to all Telkom Mobile hotspots, as long as they SMS their e-mail address and the word ‚”free‚” to an SMS shortcode number, 32707. The cost of the SMS is R1, which is the only charge.

Telkom Mobile pre-paid customers will be given free access based on the amount with which they top up their accounts: A R50-R99 recharge earns 2GB of data over a 7-day period: a top-up of R100 or more earns 10GB of data to be used over the next 30 days.

A test of several Telkom Mobile hotspots this week showed it delivering download speeds above 14Mbps. Maharaj says that Telkom Mobile has put an emphasis on quality access, with ADSL being used as backhaul for stand-alone venues and ‚”mom and pop‚” outlets, while the three major airports and several large malls are connected by fibre.

‚”Maximum backhaul speeds range from 4Mbps to 10Mpbs for a mom and pop store or a Nando’s to 40Mbps in malls and airports, so theres a whole range of environments. We don’t throttle speeds. We put in high capacity access points as well, not cheap kit. All the hotspots are remotely monitored so we know when an access point is down and dispatch a technician. All the hotspots are integrated into our network: it’s not just a typical free Wi-Fi ADSL spot.‚”

For a Telkom Mobile subscriber, after the subscriber has connected for the first time, the hotspots take precedence over 3G, linking automatically to the hotspot when the user is in range, and saving on use of 3G bundles.

Maharaj acknowledges this is a highly strategic move.

‚”It allows us to give customers a lot of value for money without compromising our network for guys who are dependent on our network. And it’s really leveraging the Telkom infrastructure to the maximum, because the ADSL ports are there, fibre is there, so the incremental cost of providing the service is small. And the value is huge.‚”

Telkom contract subscribers will also be given a free data allowance of up to 10GB a month, depending on how much they spend on their contracts.

WirelessG will be hard-pressed to compete with the Telkom offering, although it’s business model is a little different, often selling the service to hospitality establishments, which then provide it fee to their guests. Vodacom has a 28% share in WirelessG, but earlier this year pulled out of a deal to resell WirelessG Wi-Fi access to its own customers.

Meanwhile, WirelessG’s Internet Service Provider division, G-Connect, entered an agreement with Nashua Mobile for the latter to sell a 3GB/month Wi-Fi package for R39 a month. This was regarded as the best Wi-Fi deal on the market prior to the Telkom Mobile announcement. Ironically, G-Connect also resells Telkom ADSL services.

AlwaysOn, which has partnerships with MWEB and Internet Solution, respectively the country’s largest consumer and business ISPs, appears to be more widely accessible than WirelessG, despite claiming a lower number of hotspots.

Regardless of the numbers, though, both AlwaysOn and WirelessG are now likely to speed up their pace of customer acquisition in response to the Telkom Mobile announcement.

Before long, hotspot hunters can expect the same kind of turf war in the Wi-Fi space that has led to price wars in mobile broadband.

* Visit http://www.telkommobile.com/wifilocations to locate Telkom Mobile Wi-Fi hotspots.

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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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