South Africa’s cellphone price wars are good news for mobile apps, according to Murray Steyn, COO of Vox Telecom, who predicts both businesses and end users will soon have a far greater range of mobile services to choose from.
“When data prices are as high as they have been in South Africa until now,” says Steyn, “a lot of value-added mobile services just never get off the ground. Mobile VoIP, video conferencing and a whole lot of enterprise mobility applications, for example, are just prohibitively expensive. All that changes when data gets cheaper.”
The shift started with Cell C’s move to per-second billing for voice calls, says Steyn, with some operators quickly following suit. “It’s given the market a very necessary wake-up call,” he says. “Cell C’s strategy under Allan Knott-Craig is refreshingly aggressive; it’s good to have a new vision for the local mobile market, and its having a knock on effect into other services including mobile data as well as fixed broadband.”
The medium-term implication for operators of lower prices, he says, is that “it’s no longer just about the minutes for voice or the bytes for data – it’s about what other value-added services you can layer on top of that to offer your customer. And it finally makes it feasible for consumers to have all their devices connected, and opens up possibilities for all sorts of sexy new applications.”
Mobile videoconferencing is one area Steyn suggests people watch. “The base technology has been available for a while now, but the cost has made it unrealistic as a day-to-day communication tool for anyone who didn’t have cash to burn. As data charges drop, I would be surprised if we don’t start to see a lot more people turning to videoconferencing using their phones and tablets, and a number of new applications and services to support that.”
The same affordability threshold applies to many other long-predicted internet services, says Steyn. “At this point the applications become limited only by your imagination,” he says. “If you’re a farmers’ co-op, you might want to stream weather station data from each farm to a central point, even if just to create an automated record. If you’re a fleet manager, you can collect live fuel usage data from every vehicle you have on the road.”
“The competition in the market is resulting in lower data prices and increased and improved value-added services and that is good for South African businesses and consumers – improving productivity and driving economic growth.”