South African communications company still flying below radar

Metacom is possibly one of South Africa’s least-known brands: Yet this entrepreneurial technology company has been quietly transforming industrial, commercial and financial communications for nearly ten years. Innovative solutions and excellence in service has allowed Metacom to grow sustainably into the established provider of quality service that it is today.

With a growing customer base as diverse as Eskom and PEP, Metacom dominates a distinctively African niche: The provision of managed robust, reliable, affordable communications wherever needed. “We can manage connectivity to anything, from anywhere, far more cost-effectively than competitive solutions – and we’ve proved it,” says Metacom’s founder and MD Rean van Niekerk.

Metacom began by providing SMS-based industrial communication services over the cellular operators’ GSM networks. It has since evolved into a telecommunications provider in its own right, offering its blue chip clients an end-to-end managed virtual private network communications solutions, integrating all connectivity media, from physical connectivity to satellite.

“Our clients are utilities, retailers and banks for whom robust, reliable communications are absolutely critical,” says Van Niekerk. “We started by building SIM-card based devices for communicating between machinery in the field and central process control systems, but soon realised that the devices alone weren’t enough. We needed to offer our clients completely secure managed virtual private networks that would deliver the data directly where it was needed, reliably and consistently. Most of our virtual private network communication solutions now allows for failover between any number of technologies, including ADSL, GSM, Satellite or Diginet, ensuring maximum uptime for all our customers”

Today, Metacom connects thousands of electricity distribution nodes, retail points of sale and ATMs throughout South and southern Africa. “We believe we have at least one device that’s connected into our network in every single town in South Africa, as well as on many farms and in remote rural areas,” says Van Niekerk.

The company invests heavily in research and development and is always working on five or six new product or technology applications at once, says Van Niekerk. “Most recently we’ve developed a shoebox-sized satellite solution that can literally be installed in an hour once we reach the site. Getting to the site can take a while, though – we’ve recently been deploying this technology in Angola.”

Metacom’s move into Africa has followed customer demand. “We started with some tentative single points in some of the more accessible countries,” says Van Niekerk. “Today we supply seamless connectivity for our customers in nine African countries, and in most of our deployment sites we are the only option available. Yet we can still connect our customers at extremely competitive rates.”

The core of Metacom’s business is its Cape Town-based International Operations Centre (IOC), which monitors and pro-actively supports both its devices in the field and its networks around the clock. “Our goal is to ensure that our devices are online and operational 24 x 7 in order to give our customers peace of mind that their systems are continuously operational. E,” says Van Niekerk. “We take complete ownership of the entire communications chain.”

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South African communications company still flying below radar