WiFi call­ing ser­vices gather speed in SA

Finweek English Edition - - TECHNOLOGY - BY GUGU LOURIE

WFi call­ing ser­vices are pick­ing up steam in South Africa and is likely to be the new bat­tle­ground among mo­bile phone f irms and hotspot net­work op­er­a­tors, such as Al­waysOn and Or­ange.

The of f s hoot of t he t ele­coms in­dus­try, WiFi – a short-range wire­less net­work – is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a life­style re­quire­ment as more South Africans ac­cess the in­ter­net via hotspots i n bars, restau­rants, cof­fee shops, con­fer­ence venues, air­ports and even on the bus ser­vices in the City of Tsh­wane.

In search of new rev­enue streams, op­er­a­tors such as Al­waysOn have launched WiFi call­ing ser­vices. Cell C, South Africa’s third-largest mo­bile phone op­er­a­tor, is also pre­par­ing to launch a WiFi call­ing of­fer­ing.

Vo­da­com and MTN haven’t said if it will of­fer this ser­vice to its cus­tomers.

WiFi call­ing en­ables a user to make a call even if they are in an area with no cov­er­age from any of Vo­da­com, MTN, Cell C or Telkom Mo­bile, pro­vided you are con­nected to a WiFi hotspot that de­liv­ers WiFi call­ing.

There is noth­ing new about WiFi call­ing as apps like What­sApp, Skype and Viber al­ready pro­vide this ser­vice by en­abling smart­phone users to make phone cal l s over t he i nter­net and avoid con­nect­ing to the cel­lu­lar phone op­er­a­tors’ wider net­works.

Al­waysOn, which i s owned by In­ter­net So­lu­tions and con­trolled by Di­men­sion Data, has launched calls over WiFi or its cel­lu­lar data pack­age – a much cheaper way of call­ing when com­pared to us­ing mo­bile phone op­er­a­tors’ net­works.

The com­pany pro­vides calls for free be­tween all users of Al­waysOn Call­ing, but calls made from the ser­vice to lo­cal f i xed-line and cel­lu­lar providers are charged at a f lat rate of R50 per hour of talk time at per sec­ond rate.

Al­waysOn pro­vides its ser­vices to close to 1m monthly users.

Hay­den Lam­berti, Al­waysOn’s man­ag­ing direc­tor, says: “The South African con­sumer is hav­ing a rough time of it at the mo­ment with mo­bile tar­iff hikes across the board. For South Africans want­ing to get the best deal and max­imise their time on­line, this is the per­fect an­swer. It is easy to get, easy to use and users get to save a lot of money.”

Al­waysOn WiFi s e r v i c e s a r e avail­able at Dop­pio Zero, Dulce Café, Fego, McDon­alds, Mugg & Bean, Seat­tle Cof­fee Shops, Wimpy, Wool­worths, City Lodge Ho­tels, Protea Ho­tels and Sun In­ter­na­tional Ho­tels.

The com­pany’s WiFi ser­vices are also made avail­able to trav­el­ling cus­tomers t hrough roam­ing agree­ments with BT WiFi, Or­ange, Sprint and Tata Indi­com, among oth­ers.

One won­ders whether Telkom, South Africa’s big­gest f i xed- l i ne tele­phone group, is not about to join the race to pro­vide WiFi call­ing.

Telkom has the largest WiFi net­work in the coun­try. It had 6 100 on-air WiFi hotspots at the end of March. It seems likely that with such in­fra­struc­ture, Telkom would be keen to pro­vide WiFi call­ing ser­vices.

How­ever, Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko says the com­pany is presently “over-in­dexed” on voice and is not yet ready to of­fer WiFi call­ing ser­vices. “I don’t want to can­ni­balise it too quickly. But it’s go­ing to hap­pen any­way,” says Maseko.

Telkom’s fixed voice us­age de­clined by 13.5% to R6.9bn in the year to endMarch.

“We con­tinue to see pres­sure on voice us­age, par­tic­u­larly in our en­ter­prise busi­ness,” says Maseko.

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