Town­ship de­mand drives mo­bile in­no­va­tion

Finweek English Edition - - INSIDE - BY GUGU LOURIE

With rev­enues from voice tele­phone ser­vices in decline – ow­ing to more peo­ple opt­ing for cheaper mes­sage ser­vices – South African mo­bile phone com­pa­nies are be­com­ing more i nno­va­tive as t hey po­si­tion them­selves to tackle changes in de­mand.

De­mand for data is in­creas­ing as more South Africans get con­nected through their low-cost smartphones. The devel­op­ment means that op­er­a­tors have to find new ways to connect users to their “qual­ity and big­ger” net­works.

On 23 April, MTN SA re­vealed that its data us­age had surged by 62.6%, while data users rose 18.1% to 17.2m in the three months to end March 2015.

In Fe­bru­ary, Vo­da­com SA an­nounced that its data traf­fic was up 62.2% and ac­tive data cus­tomers had in­creased to 16.8m (53.4% of its ac­tive cus­tomers).

Clearly, mo­bile data is grow­ing faster than voice ser­vices. More users are now able to connect to the op­er­a­tors’ data net­works with­out has­sles.

How­ever, town­ship res­i­dents gen­er­ally com­plain that mo­bile phone net­works are very slow in their ar­eas, say­ing that op­er­a­tors are un­able to ac­com­mo­date their ap­petite for mo­bile data.

For years mo­bile phone op­er­a­tors have ne­glected in­fra­struc­ture up­grades in town­ships, af­fect­ing the qual­ity of ser­vices they pro­vide in th­ese ar­eas.

THE COUN­TRY’S BIG­GEST MO­BILE PHONE

COM­PANY IS EYE­ING PO­TEN­TIAL REV­ENUES IN THE TOWN­SHIPS, WHERE DATA TRAF­FIC VOL­UME GROWTH

IS RUN­NING

WELL AHEAD OF THE AV­ER­AGE GROWTH

RATE COUN­TRY­WIDE.

With MTN SA sub­scriber growth muted in the quar­ter to end March 2015, Vo­da­com looks set to take ad­van­tage of the rapid growth of mo­bile data us­age in the town­ships.

To po­si­tion it­self in the town­ships and ben­e­fit from the up­take of low-cost smart de­vices in­clud­ing smartphones and tablets, Vo­da­com has de­cided to up­grade net­work in­fra­struc­ture in town­ships in a move aimed at ad­dress­ing grow­ing de­mand for mo­bile data in a qual­ity net­work.

The coun­try’s big­gest mo­bile phone com­pany is eye­ing po­ten­tial rev­enues in the town­ships, where data traf­fic vol­ume growth is run­ning well ahead of the av­er­age growth rate coun­try­wide.

The op­er­a­tor has un­veiled a pi­lot pro­jec t i n Alexan­dra t own­ship, Jo­han­nes­burg, which will help solve the prob­lem of un­avail­abil­ity of space to host base sta­tions in such ar­eas. In Alexan­dra, Vo­da­com retrof it­ted a com­pact base sta­tion to the roof of a ship­ping con­tainer, which houses a shop.

This move en­ables Vo­da­com to roll out new base sta­tion sites within weeks as op­posed to the typ­i­cal 12-18 month lead time it nor­mally takes to build new sites.

Vo­da­com said such base sta­tions, mounted on con­tain­ers, pro­vide mo­bile cov­er­age over a ra­dius of up to 1.5km and can ser­vice as many as 5 000 sub­scribers at peak times. As part of its pi­lot project, Vo­da­com plans to roll-out f ive base sta­tions.

Vo­da­com’s chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer An­dries Del­port, who is clearly ex­cited by the pi­lot project, says: “The shops lo­cated i n con­tain­ers t yp­i­cally sell air­time, m-pesa and tele­phone ser­vices. With a base sta­tion lo­cated on their roof, we’ll sup­port the shop with an ad­di­tional source of in­come and they in turn pro­vide us with added site se­cu­rity. It makes us part of the com­mu­nity.”

Del­port adds: “We’re see­ing data vol­umes in Gaut­eng’s town­ships al­most dou­bling year-on-year, which is well ahead of t he av­er­age growth rate coun­try­wide. Iden­ti­fy­ing and build­ing new sites to cater for this in densely pop­u­lated ar­eas has been dif­fi­cult and on top of that, site se­cu­rity can be an is­sue.”

A typ­i­cal base sta­tion site takes up to about 30m2, which con­sists of a mast of about 2m2. Given space lim­i­ta­tion in densely pop­u­lated town­ships, it is con­ve­nient to build base sta­tions on th­ese con­tain­ers.

While Vo­da­com is tar­get­ing more cus­tomers with its in­no­va­tive base sta­tions in the town­ship, MTN last year won a ten­der from the City of Jo­han­nes­burg’s mu­nic­i­pal en­tity, City Power, to turn lamp posts into mo­bile phone base sta­tions.

MTN is en­ti­tled to con­vert 110 000 lamp posts in the city into mini-masts or broad­band tow­ers.

So far, the op­er­a­tor has de­ployed two such tow­ers in Bryanston, Jo­han­nes­burg. But the project has been placed on hold af­ter res­i­dents com­plained they were not con­sulted, cit­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion and by­laws re­lat­ing to tower mast health and safety.

Mo­bile phone op­er­a­tors have to find new, bet­ter and quicker ways to connect grow­ing num­bers of town­ship-based data cus­tomers.

The ques­tion re­mains whether af­fected town­ship res­i­dents will ac­cept th­ese in­no­va­tions.

One of Vo­da­com’s VSP con­tainer shops in

Alexan­dra, Jo­han­nes­burg.

Di­alling to be con­nected to the dig­i­tal world.

Re- en­gi­neer­ing con­tainer shops into

base sta­tions.

A sat­telite con­nects a Vo­da­com con­tainer shop to

its net­work.

Rein­vent­ing base sta­tions in Alexan­dra.

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