Data to dominate 2013 - SA operators

2013-01-22 09:29
The Nokia Lumia is a smartphone alternative to Samsung, Apple and HTC devices. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

The Nokia Lumia is a smartphone alternative to Samsung, Apple and HTC devices. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - Mobile operators have pegged data growth and as a driver in 2013 with particular focus on smartphones being used to access social media platforms.

"We think that social media will continue to grow in popularity and be a major driver of mobile usage in 2013. More than half of all South Africans first experience the internet via a smartphone, and certainly amongst the younger generation it's to log in to things like Facebook and Twitter," Richard Boorman Vodacom Group executive head of corporate communications told News24.

The operator recently launched LTE (Long Term Evolution) higher speed mobile networks, despite the regulator Icasa not having held auctions for true fourth generation mobile broadband spectrum.

Vodacom said that it will also focus on cost and access of services across demographics.

"The big picture theme for us will be broadening access to connectivity both geographically and across all socio-economic groups. Lower cost devices, both smartphones and tablets, will be a big focus. In conjunction with this we'll continue to roll out higher speed connectivity through new technology like LTE and expanding our fibre-optic transmission network," said Boorman.

Vodacom reported in its 2012 results that low cost handsets sold well, despite most of the media attention going to top-end smartphones.


"In the ultra low-cost handset segment - good growth - the handsets selling for below R100, with lots of competition in the retail channel," outgoing CEO Pieter Uys said at the time.

MTN expressed its frustration with the regulator in allocating the spectrum, saying that it would lobby in 2013 to get forward movement on the spectrum issue.

"Icasa has not made new allocations to operators and it should be noted that currently there is no clear direction on spectrum allocation where the qualification criteria for LTE spectrum is still being finalised by the Minister of Communications who has embarked on a process to address the high demand frequency bands in South Africa," said Lambotharan Kanagaratnam, chief technology officer at MTN SA.

MTN is also targeting data consumption as a major driver as more people access the internet primarily on smartphones in SA and network speed increases.

"Data growth has happened on multiple fronts, from the increase in smartphone penetration, the improvement in the speed of MTN's data network due to the significant rollout in 3G/HSPA+ and fibre over the last 24 months, the increase in consumption of video and higher speed applications and services, a general adoption of mobile data and internet as a 'must have' service," said Kanagaratnam.

Vodacom will implement a multi-level approach, focusing on cost of devices as well as data consumption.

Users of social networks are often hesitant to upload images on mobile devices because of the data cost, but the Boorman said that 2013 would focus Vodacom on these issues.

"One of the defining characteristics of social media is shareability - with higher speed technology like LTE becoming more prevalent in 2013 and with data prices continuing to come down, it'll be more and more commonplace to share pictures and videos. This kind of activity will no doubt support continued strong growth in data usage."


Vodacom spent significant capital upgrading its network in 2012 and MTN said that a robust network would service to increase the subscriber experience.

"MTN has modernised a total of over 4 000 base station sites in preparation for LTE and activated HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access) on close to 1 000 sites during 2012 alone.

"We have made significant progress on our mobile broadband network deployment and increased our network footprint by over a thousand 3G sites 2012 and connected over 800 base station sites in the same year," Kanagaratnam said.

Vodacom indicated that mobile applications will continue to see growth in the short term, and hopes that more local apps will be developed as the demand market grows for the technology.

"We're hopeful that we'll see an increase locally developed and locally relevant apps in 2013.  At some point in the not too distant future, we'll probably begin to wonder why we ever typed addresses into web browsers," said Boorman.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter

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