The mobile data market in South Africa is on the cusp of significant growth, thanks to the falling prices of high-speed cellular connectivity and the increasing penetration of 3G- and GPRS-enabled phones into the market. This is according to Mark Taylor, managing director of cellular service provider, Nashua Mobile.
He says that cellular technologies such as GPRS and 3G have the potential to help companies to improve customer service and generate more revenues by liberating their people from their desks and allowing them to spend more time in the field.
"South Africa's mobile and wireless market is a vibrant and exciting one where the first effects of true competition are beginning to be felt. Already, MTN and Vodacom have launched 3G services and have cut the prices for data services dramatically," says Taylor. "They are also putting a lot of muscle behind the marketing of these services to drive adoption, which should translate into healthy growth. Economies of scale are likely to build up quickly, with the result that prices should fall dramatically in the years ahead."
Taylor points to recent research from BMI-TechKnowledge that projects that around 4,4 million subscribers will be using 3G services by 2009, which is around five times as many people as are expected to be using broadband services such as ADSL and iBurst by the same year.
Phones that are ready for EDGE, GPRS and 3G are now available as standard upgrades for contract users and prices of high-speed mobile data services are falling rapidly. Taylor warns, however, that the ever-increasing number of cellular devices and services on the market, makes it difficult for consumers to pick the right options for their lifestyles. One trend that has the potential to cause consumer confusion is the merging of myriad technologies and functions into a single device. So-called 'converged devices' such as camera phones have already made strong in-roads into South Africa's market for cellular handsets.
Already, devices have emerged that contain advanced features such as support for 3G networks, GPS, MPEG-4 encoders/decoders, video telephony and streaming, WiFi support (Internet access at hotspots and other wireless network venues), music players and push-to-talk applications.
Converged devices often make trade-offs between functionality and practicality, with the result that many devices offer poor processing performance and battery life in a bulky form factor, says Taylor. The quality of these devices is improving rapidly, but for many users a less functional phone with better battery life and more talk-time may be more appropriate than one with an MP3 player and video telephony.
The range of wireless and mobile connectivity options is likely to become even more daunting once operators begin to compete more aggressively as a result of the advent of number portability, WiFi reaches critical mass, and new standards such as WiMax are launched as commercial services.