SA mobile operators in new race

South African operators, Vodacom, MTN, and Telkom are in a new race to launch streaming video services as they bid to drive higher subscriber revenue through data rich packages.

MTN and Vodacom, in particular, have seen their subscribers migrate to smartphones and tablets in recent years, with Vodacom reporting a 24% rise in data revenue in its most recent set of results – which it said represents 22.7% of service revenue, up from 18.4% in the prior year.

Data revenue growth, Vodacom said, was further supported by a 23.5% increase in the number of active smartphones and tablets to 7.8 million devices on its network in South Africa.

LTE and FTTH

While South Africa’s major operators continue to fight a price war, the race to provide faster mobile services was ignited in October 2012, when Vodacom became the first operator in South Africa to launch a commercial LTE service.

MTN followed suit in December, with Telkom launching its LTE service in early 2013.

Next came the race to offer a commercial fibre-to-the-home solution – and while none of the operators have crossed the finishing line, MTN looks set to beat out its competitors, having announced that it plans to commercially launch 100Mbps fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services in South Africa on 1 June 2014.

Vodacom, meanwhile, said it is actively rolling out fibre in business parks, while the group is also preparing to do the same in gated communities.

“We’re currently building the fibre backbones to make this possible,” the group said, adding, however, that it was too early to give any concrete details at this stage.

Telkom has earmarked the end of the year for a commercial launch of FTTH.

Mobile video

Bloomberg recently reported that MTN is in discussions with a company based in Asia to provide a streaming service on its network.

The news service said that a deal with the content provider could be concluded before the end of the year and would enable MTN to offer access to movies and television content.

MTN did not respond to questions regarding its FTTH launch – expected later this week – nor did the group answer questions relating to the launch of a streaming service.

However, the group held discussions about its FTTH service late last week.

Mike Fairon
Mike Fairon

In January, MTN suggested that its digital multi-media developments were in an advanced stage.

“Our plans in the multi-media space are progressing well and we plan to provide some innovative services in the coming months,” said Mike Fairon, GM: Products and Solutions at MTN SA.

Nearly six months on, and Fairon’s comments led to speculation that MTN may well be ready to trial a streaming service as early as June, in conjunction with its FTTH project.

Vodafone UK announced last week that its Red 4G plan subscribers will soon get a free six month Netflix subscription with their service, leading to speculation that Vodacom, which is part of the Vodafone Group, may do the same in South Africa.

Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub said that the group is in similar talks to the ones its parent company, Vodafone, is having with Netflix about streaming content, “some through Vodafone, some directly.”

When asked for specific company names, including Netflix, Joosub said: “I don’t want to comment on any specific ones yet.”

Vodacom was also linked to Naspers over access to its television content.

In January, Telkom CEO Sipho Maseko told Bloomberg that he held talks with a host of large media companies including Comcast, Bertelsmann, Naspers, and Netflix, to carry content on the telco’s fixed-line networks.

And in February, Telkom extended an invitation to industry to bid for the provisioning of Video on Demand (VoD) services.

Not all smooth sailing

Gareth Mellon, senior industry analyst for ICT at Frost & Sullivan believes that the uptake potential is very good locally.

However, he also cautioned on the potential pitfalls: “For carriers, overloaded networks would result in poor quality of service for customers, and the networks would also stand to lose out on data revenues, especially if the price points for content remain high,” Mellon said.

“Content providers could lose out on subscription revenues and potentially cannibalise existing services.”

More on mobile services

MTN, Vodacom, Telkom move on mobile TV

Vodacom readying fibre-to-the-home

Is Vodacom talking to Netflix?

MTN in talks to stream content: report

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Telkom on track with fibre-to-the-home

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SA mobile operators in new race