• Wi-Fi Hotspots for the Disadvantaged

    The technological advancement in South Africa in terms of the digital device has made Telkom payphones review their public phones and introduce the Wi-Fi hot spots at a radius of 10 metres.

    In 1994, only 15 percent of South Africans had access to telephony, thus payphones were of more help to the citizens.

    The major reason for this project to be launched is to help citizens that are disadvantaged in terms of internet access.

    To read the article titled, “Telkom's Wi-Fi hotspots to benefit disadvantaged citizens,” click here.

    SABC News
  • Google’s Low Cost Smartphone Announced

    Google has announced that it is working on a low-cost smartphone aimed at emerging markets as part of an initiative called Android One.

    Google senior vice president, Sundar Pichai, points out that the Android-powered handset will be built with a basic set of features including FM radio, have a screen slightly smaller than five inches (12.7 centimetres) and be priced at R1 000).

    Pichai states the Android One initiative sets out to work with smartphone makers and others in the ‘ecosystem’ to pool resources and standardise hardware platforms to provide ‘turnkey solutions’ for making handsets, according to Pichai.

    To read the article titled, “Google’s low-cost phone for emerging market,” click here.

    IOL News
  • Free Wi-Fi at South African Taxis

    The South African National Taxi Council (SANTACO) has announced that it will be providing free wi-fi to commuters in taxis and around taxi ranks.

    According to reports, while the project has been spearheaded by the taxi association, it is being implemented through a collaboration between Telkom.

    Telkom will be providing the connections and Wi-Taxi South Africa will be responsible for the infrastructure.

    Meanwhile, SANTACO chief executive officer, Nkululeko Buthelezi, says that taxis will not increase their fares, and that the wi-fi was simply a ‘value-add’ included in the normal fee.

    To read the article titled, “Plan for free wi-fi on all taxis,” click here.

    IOL News
  • ICASA Reviews Proposed New Call Termination Rates

    The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) says it has started the process of reviewing its proposed new call termination rates.
    ICASA spokesperson, Paseka Malekathe, says in order to do the process in a transparent and fair manner, questionnaires will be sent to every licensee to seek information for the review.
    ICASA, which was given six months by the court to amend its regulations, has given the licensees are required to submit responses to ICASA by 13 June 2014.
    To read the article titled, “ICASA reviews proposed new call termination rates,” click here.

    SABC News
  • SA Has A 'Right' to Cheap Data

    According to Duncan Alfreds, data cost remains a barrier to many South Africans accessing the Internet and reducing that cost should be the priority, an industry insider insists.

    In his article titled ‘SA has a 'right' to cheap data’, Alfreds echoes Kevin Hurwitza, chief executive officer’s view that, "Access to cost-effective data should be a basic right to consumers, not a luxury."

    He argues that despite South Africa having the potential of six million cable broadband connections, there are only around 800 000 ADSL subscribers, adding that most South Africans who access the Internet, do so on mobile phones.

    To read the article titled, “SA has a 'right' to cheap data,” click here.

    News 24
  • Education 'Key' to Open Wi-Fi Networks

    South African cities are engaged in the process of rolling out public Wi-Fi hotpots in an effort to make high speed mobile data freely available.
    According to a security consultant at Fortinet, Jonas Thulin, states that the new service though, could be used by criminals to entrap users who are unused to the environment.
    "While access for all is a commendable goal, there are security risks in extending free and low-cost Wi-Fi access in public places," explains Thulin.
    The cities of Tshwane and Cape Town are in the process of rolling our Wi-Fi access points for residents, and Thulin said that newbie users had be educated about the risks of an open network.
    To read the article titled, “Education 'key' to open Wi-Fi networks,” click here.

    News 24
  • ICASA Challenged Over Call Rates

    Cellphone network operators, MTN and Vodacom, will continue to challenge the introduction of new asymmetrical call termination rates in the Johannesburg High Court.

    However, Kate Hofmeyer, for Cell C, believed that if MTN and Vodacom were granted interim relief through the court suspending the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) 2014 regulations, this would result in the market being unregulated.

    Call termination rates are rates that mobile operators have to pay one another for calls to other networks.

    To read the article titled, “Unregulated cell environment dangerous – ICASA,” click here

    Fin 24
  • Mobile Data on the Increase in SA

    According to a report, mobile data traffic in South Africa is expected to have a compound annual growth of 53 percent in the next five years.

    The Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2013 to 2018, points out that mobile data traffic will reach an annual run rate of two exabytes (one quintillion bytes) by 2018.

    The report also states that 60 percent of mobile connections in South Africa will be ‘smart’ connections by 2018, up from 20 percent in 2013.

    To read the article titled, “Mobile data in South Africa to boom in next five years,” click here.

    Times Live
  • Vodacom and MTN Put Profits Before People

    I often wonder if certain captains of industries are entirely disconnected from reality. It is the only thing that can explain the breathtaking gall of Vodacom chief executive, Shameel Joosub, who complained publicly that new regulations would cost his company R1 billion in 2015, threatening to sue as a result.

    His threat relates to the upcoming changes in mobile termination rates enforced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA). These are the fees that our cellphone networks are allowed to charge each other when customers call numbers outside of their own network.

    After years of squabbling, ICASA has finally managed to force the larger operators to gradually reduce these fees from 56 cents per minute in 2012 to 20 cents starting in March this year (2014), and down to 10 cents by 2016.

    Let's be clear: we are not talking about Vodacom or MTN suddenly being unfairly fined or taxed. These termination fees are built into the cost of the phone calls we make. By forcing the operators to lower them, ICASA is acting on behalf of ordinary consumers because lowering these fees will stimulate competition and drive down call charges across the industry.

    So what Joosub is effectively saying is: "Vodacom looked at the numbers and these lower call rates will hurt profits. We like profits, so we are (probably) suing ICASA." Were Vodacom some kind of struggling non-governmental organisation or a scheme to dig wells for the impoverished in South Sudan, say – we might have some sympathy. But Vodacom is a spectacularly profitable giant with over 50 percent of the South African market in its grasp.

    In the year ending December 2013, Vodacom declared over R13.2-billion in pure profit – a rise of nearly 30 percent on the previous year. So the amount Joosub is complaining about does not even equal 10 percent of last year's profits. By 2015, it will probably be closer to five percent. Shame.

    One of the things that is most vexing to Joosub and his compatriots at MTN (who control a healthy 33 percent of the market) is that ICASA has decided to treat the smaller networks – Cell C and Telkom Mobile – differently. They will receive much higher termination fees from Vodacom and MTN than they pay in return. 

    The logic behind this decision is that the larger players, left unchecked, might exercise their market power to squeeze the smaller players out completely. I am normally not a fan of such blatant market manipulation by a regulator, but given the alternative – a predatory duopoly – I am comfortable with the idea.

    It is pleasingly ironic to watch Telkom argue that it needs special treatment to help it defeat mean old Vodacom, in which it owned a 50 percent stake until mid-2009. The spectacle of one rapacious monopolist stabbing another former comrade-in-monopoly in the back is grimly amusing. The fact that consumers may benefit as a result is purely coincidental, but with Telkom's history I suppose we will take what scraps we can get.

    You could argue that Joosub and Zunaid Bulbulia, MTN's chief executive, are just doing their jobs. They are protecting their shareholders, many of them ordinary South Africans, against a regulator that blatantly seeks to make their companies less profitable. 

    But let us look at their profit margins in comparison to international norms. In its last financial year, Vodacom's net profit margin was 22.2 percent and the MTN group's was 17.8 percent. In the previous year, the figures were 17.5 percent and 19.5 percent respectively. International averages for the industry hover around 10 percent, and 15 percent is considered very high.

    Profit margins are meant to reflect risk. Supermarkets make lower margins than many riskier businesses because the chance of people not needing food regularly is zero. But they make up for this in volumes. 

    I would argue that mature telecoms operators are much more like supermarkets than riskier businesses such as software or construction. They have huge, established customer bases and provide a daily service to even the poorest people. They simply do not deserve the large risk premium they are currently extracting from the market. So bitching about giving five percent of your enormous profits back to your customers will only come across as tin-eared and out of touch.

    Oscar Wilde once said: "One should always play fairly when one has the winning cards." If I were Joosub or Bulbulia, I would take that to heart and shut my mouth.

    Alistair is the Mail & Guardian's Chief Technology Officer. This article first appeared on the Mail & Guardian website. 
    Alistair Fairweather
  • Africa Leads Cellular Health Technology Revolution

    Necessity is the mother of invention - and in Africa, where high levels of disease threaten to engulf the continent - the medical profession is having to get creative.

    According to Dr Sam Surka, researcher from the Chronic Disease Initiative for Africa (CDIA), a case in point is the recent advances in cellphone technology and Mobile Health, or M-health, which are showing that an answer to Africa’s medical health needs may come from this most unlikely of sources.

    Africa has one of the highest HIV/AIDS rate in the world, and an increasing incidence of chronic and non-communicable disease and the associated risk factors. Poor living conditions, over-populated living areas, lack of education and inaccessibility to medical information make this situation incredibly hard to manage. Africa carries more than 24 percent of the global burden of disease but has an average of only two doctors per 10 000 people.

    “Healthcare has always been a huge concern in Africa, especially when doctors and hospitals are far from isolated or remote areas where care is often most needed: M-health is potentially the answer to this,” says Surka.

    The M-health applications already available offer a wide range of services across the medical spectrum, contributing to a variety of responses to medical needs and conditions, in many cases opening new areas of preventative action previously impossible. Surka is currently working on a first-time project for the CDIA to develop a mobile phone application that calculates a total cardiovascular disease risk score and to investigate how this impacts on screening for cardiovascular disease by community health workers.

    “While much has been made of the mobile revolution in North America and its impact on the health sector, M-health is even more important in developing countries where phones are sometimes the only way for people to share and receive information. Through M-health projects, we at the CDIA hope to contribute to bringing its potential to light,” says Surka.

    Mobile penetration in Africa is at 65 percent, the second biggest mobile market in the world, with half of all Internet connections in Africa exclusively on mobile technology. South Africa has the second highest smartphone penetration on the continent at 19 percent, after Egypt at 37 percent.

    This accessibility means big things for healthcare - cellphones enable education that is more effective and targeted. “M-health is very much a needs-based innovation. While first world countries are leading in the medical technological sphere, there is certainly a gap between international thinking and what is actually needed on the receiving end. M-health gives us the ability to ensure we’re addressing actual needs,” says Surka.

    This is done primarily through the collection of data: the most important feature of mobile phone medical applications is that they are patient-focused; the patient is the one engaging. And through the data that the patient supplies, it is possible to see what areas are most in need of support, and for healthcare providers to respond accordingly.

    “Importantly, mobile health offers a necessary change to the status quo - for too long the medical sector has been at efforts to switch from doctor centric to patient-focused care. For the last 50 years, this has been happening and the advent of cellphone tech [technology] allows this to an even greater degree,” says Surka.

    Some good examples of M-Health include: TxtAlert - a mobile tool that sends unique automated SMS reminders to patients on chronic medication - reminding them to take their medication or perform other necessary tasks. A special tool, called ‘Please Call Me’ allows patients to call their doctors even if they do not have any airtime available by ‘pinging’ their doctor who then calls back.

    Young Africa Live is a digital forum where African youths can share stories and get information about HIV and AIDS. It also has helpful numbers and contact details for HIV/AIDS-related organisations, in an effort to de-stigmatise the diseases while also providing clear facts and support groups for African youths.

    hiVIVA is an application in early development stages, enabling users to stay motivated and on top of HIV medication adherence, through a smartphone application built on the MIT Media Lab’s online ‘CollaboRythm’ platform. Along with personalised real-time adherence support and reinforcement, users access instant lab results, just-in-time information about HIV, and smartphone-based communication with their provider and support group. One of the developers on this project, Dr Lindi van Niekerk, researcher at the CDIA and the Bertha Centre for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, says that applications such as these represent the groundbreaking potential of M-health.

    “Most of these have never been tried before, through any technology - the ‘reminder’ technology alone could make a significant contribution to combating health issues in Africa. Theoretically, the potential benefit of M-health is enormous,” she says.

    “However many of the M-health possibilities still need to be tested, with many organisations now moving into research to enable policy makers to make the decisions needed for M-health to reach its next step. Fortunately”, says Surka, “That gap between funders and researchers is narrowing.”

    “In Africa in particular, because of the need; we are actually leading in the development of M-health globally. The South African government especially is encouraging M-health development, and putting its money where its mouth is,” he says.

    Surka says that we are entering a world where an increasing number of previously marginalised people have access to a mobile phone – a new state of affairs that has brought with it rapid technology development: importantly, powerful, relatively cheap technology that could provide immense relief to the crippling burden of disease on the continent.

    “The sky is the limit. We are seeing new technologies available every day, and as more health technicians, service providers, and developers start to roll out M-health initiatives, we will see M-health applications become an integral part of life in Africa, and then we will really start to see a positive change to the health of the continent.”

    - Jane Notten is the director at Rothko. For more information contact Zenahrea Damon at or call 021 448 9465.
    Jane Notten
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