Digital tsunami to hit SA workplace

A visitor to the Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, Spain tries out Samsung's latest smartphone range. (Gareth van Zyl)
A visitor to the Mobile World Congress 2015 in Barcelona, Spain tries out Samsung's latest smartphone range. (Gareth van Zyl)
Gareth van Zyl

Johannesburg - Rising smartphone use in South Africa is boosting local internet growth, resulting in a wave of technology that is forecast to also impact places of work.

This is according to the Managing Director of research firm World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck, who was speaking at a Sony Mobile event in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Goldstuck said that smartphone usage in SA is expected to top 23.6 million users this year, up from 19 million in 2014.

This means that over half of all of South Africa’s estimated 42 million phone users have switched to smartphones.

Goldstuck explained that there is a total of 80 million mobile connections in SA, but this number includes the likes of tracking devices in cars and SIM cards for asset management.

“23.6 million smartphone users at the end of this year is in fact a conservative figure,” said Goldstuck.

“Thanks to the low-cost Android phones that are now coming onto the market that might be an even higher number.

"We see a mass migration from feature phones to smartphones and this poses a massive challenge in the workplace,” said Goldstuck, referring to the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) concept.

Android devices also make up about half of this smartphone market, Goldstuck said.

"Clearly, at this stage, South Africa is becoming an Android market," he said.

Internet boost

This growth in smartphone usage, in turn, is boosting the country’s internet population.

The number of internet users in the country is forecast to hit a “conservative estimate” of 18.5 million during 2015 and surge to 24.5 million by 2020, said Goldstuck.

“And that is assuming that a high proportion of users buying smartphones for the first time won’t be able to afford data,” he said.

“But with low data costs and data bundled into the phone, that could go up to 30 million by 2020,” he added.

Goldstuck said South Africa should follow in the footsteps of India, which has grown its internet population by lowering data prices or bundling data into prepaid packages.

India experienced a 14% surge in internet users in 2014 to top 243 million users.

“So, that’s the one element we still need in this country. The ceiling cost of data in this country remains R2 per MB.

“And the reason it remains so high is not because the data is expensive, it’s because the mobile networks don’t want people to use pay-as-you go data,” said Goldstuck.

Digital participation

Goldstuck went on to add, though, that switching millions of people onto the internet SA doesn’t result in an immediate boost for the online economy.

He said a ‘digital participation curve’ indicates that the average internet user needs to be online for five years or more before engaging actively with high-level applications such as online retail and interactive applications.

This is because South Africans take time in trusting and shaking off fear in technology.

“There are less than a million people buying virtual products in South Africa,” Goldstuck said, referring to the likes of online virtual gaming products being sold in SA.

However, this level participation is expected to be on a rising curve as of this year, meaning that businesses need to think about how they’re going to tackle the BYOD phenomenon.

“But the acceleration begins this year. Massive acceleration through the rest of the decade of the number of experienced users, and every one of those users is going to have a device in their hands and is going to make demands on networks, and on businesses and on workplaces

“The bottom line is that the bring your own device revolution needs innovation, not in a tech focused approach, but in a smarter way of working and that’s going to be the key to not just controlling the devices and managing the devices of the future but giving people the sense that they can be confident in using these devices in the future and not be scared of the internet of dangerous things but rather welcome the new world of the internet of things,” said Goldstuck.

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