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January 28, 2015
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Key departure prompts leadership shake-up at Spark

20-year Telecom New Zealand and Spark veteran Chris Quin has seen just about everything the business could offer, but has never held the chief executive’s title, apart from acting in the role.

Among other highlights, Quin assumed leadership of Telecom New Zealand’s XT network crisis, fronting the media and guiding efforts to recover after the shiny new 3G mobile network proved to be far too brittle.

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Chris Quin

Quin was an unsuccessful candidate for the chief executive’s job when current CEO Simon Moutter was appointed in 2012. He then slotted back into the company as chief executive of the home, mobile, and business division.

But now, he is leaving the company, prompting a shake-up at the top.

“Chris has been with the company for over 20 years, and has achieved all I could have asked of him over the last two years,” Moutter said. “By any measure, Chris has done a consistently terrific job in a range of executive roles at Spark New Zealand and Telecom/Gen-i before that.”

Quin will clear out his desk at the end of June.

Moutter said it is also time to move to a new phase in Spark’s transformation strategy, from stabilisation to pursuing revenue and margin growth.

One important element of that will be integrating Spark’s Turnaround Program into the businesses.

“With the Turnaround Program coming to its end, a new Strategic Program — ‘Digital First’ — will be set up over the next few months to centrally architect and steer the ongoing delivery of the digital transformation of our business,” Moutter said.

“Our aim will be to create New Zealand’s leading digital services platform and suite of digital applications intended to fuel market growth.”

In support of that, Jason Paris, general manager of Spark home, mobile, and business, will take over from Quin on July 1.

Rod Snodgrass, CEO of Spark Ventures, will lead the new Digital First program in addition to his existing responsibilities.

Chief financial officer Jolie Hodson will also take on some operational business activities on top of her existing CFO duties. Spark’s low-cost Skinny mobile business and its Big Pipe broadband business will move outside of Spark Ventures and report to her from February 1.

January 28, 2015
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Here’s why SA really needs better broadband for business to thrive

Internet

If South Africa is to boost economic growth it must bring fast internet to more entrepreneurs. Doing so will help power thousands of small businesses.

For too long the country has been slow in improving access to fast, affordable always-on internet. A recently launched government broadband policy aims to fix this, but some remain sceptical.

Access to the internet today is not only vital, but big money. A 2012 report by the Boston Consulting Group predicts that by next year the internet economy in G20 members will be worth US$4.2-trillion (at present it contributes about 2% each to South Africa and Brazil’s economies and 8% in Japan and the UK).

In the same report a survey of 15,000 small firms revealed that those with high internet usage record sales growth of up to 22% more than those firms with little or no use of the internet.

Adoption poor

But internet penetration in South Africa remains low compared to other emerging economies (see table, left). Much of this is down to the government’s poor internet policies, as well as costly access to the web (it’s expensive in Malaysia and Brazil too).

Despite this South Africa last year gained a few levels in the UN’s global broadband rankings for internet penetration, climbing to 80th out of 190 countries, up from 92nd (41%) in 2013.

Too slow and expensive

The country’s main internet challenges are download speeds and high usage costs, which remain out if synch with many other emerging economies.

For example Ookla’s Net Index, which compares and ranks consumer download speeds, reveals that speeds in Brazil and Chile are double those in South Africa (see table, right).

There is some light at the end of the tunnel though. MyBroadband, a South African website, reported recently that Telkom (which has a near monopoly in the fixed broadband market) plans to double speeds for its entry-level broadband packages to 4Mps. This is encouraging.

Costs however remain a grave concern. They may have come down since landing of additional undersea cables since 2009, but a lack of investment of networks on land persists, while a demand on radio spectrum builds with mobile broadband and wireless having taken off. This keeps subscription and usage costs high.

Despite this, broadband researchers Point Topic’s broadband tariff country scorecard for 2014 shows that South Africa performs well when it comes to entry-level broadband pricing. However, it does not rank well on average broadband tariffs (see table, left).

South Africa comes 18th out of 82 countries for entry-level broadband pricing, but on average pricing South Africa ranks back in 64th.

The good news however is that over the past five years, fixed broadband prices as a share of gross national income (GNI) per capita have dropped by 65%. So things are set to get better, sometime soon.

Cellular muddle

With smartphones set to account for four out of five connections worldwide by 2016, according to the Boston Consulting Group, it’s vital that South Africa provides more spectrum to mobile broadband.

But the government’s delay in getting digital television migration under way (the ITU’s deadline is June 17 to switch to a digital broadcasting signal), is holding things back.

A lack of competition in the local cellphone market is also keeping mobile broadband prices high, says South Africa’s Internet Services Providers’ Association. It’s hoped that the publication by the communications regulator Icasa in November last year of a final International Mobile Telephony (IMT) roadmap towards a competitive telecommunications industry will bring prices down.

Government plan

Meanwhile the South African government, like a number of emerging economies has a plan to address its internet challenges.

Dubbed South Africa Connect, the policy targets an average download speed of 100Mbps by 2030, with an average user experience speed of 5Mbps by next year, available to 50% of the population.

The plan says delays in rolling out more broadband fibre can be addressed by getting the communications department and Icasa to co-ordinate the building of civil works and help streamline the process of wayleaves.

Co-building of networks will be used to bring down costs and reduce duplication to under-serviced areas, while incentive programmes will help stimulate demand and will include a dedicated ICT entrepreneurship fund among others.

The UN has commended the plan calling it an “excellent example” of a policy which focuses on both supply-side (such as investments in broadband networks) and demand-side (through expanding ICT education) considerations.

But Ayesha Dawood, a digital media and technology lawyer, says the policy fails to explain how the country will achieve an average user experience of 5Mbps by next year or detail what the cost of this access will be for the average person.

Brazilian lesson

Brazil’s broadband challenges shows that no plan is without problems. It’s National Broadband Plan (Plano Nacional de Banda Larga) reveals the challenges that face governments in getting private-sector players to offer more affordable internet.

Of recent critics have bashed the plan, launched in 2006 and set to run until the end of last year, saying the private sector hasn’t done more to punt cheaper packages inscribed in the plan. Until September last year just cheaper packages made up just 8% of fixed broadband and 0.6% of mobile broadband connections.

Consumer groups have also been critical of the cheaper packages, saying operators hide them on their websites and that as many come with bandwidth caps that slows the download speed in no time.

Internet access is improving in South Africa, as it is in many other emerging economies. It’s vital that the South African government take internet access as seriously as any other basic service, like water, electricity and waste collection. Or be left behind.


Image by Marcelo Graciolli via Flickr

January 28, 2015
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T-Mobile Will Ignore Bad Credit If Bills Are Paid On Time For A Year

The United States ranks 13th in the world for smartphone penetration because there are over 100 million American adults that do not have one, according to Pew Research. Countries like Australia, Ireland, Israel and Saudi Arabia are ranked higher. Many Americans avoid buying smartphones because they do not get favorable plans due to bad credit. In fact, 63% of Americans have less than a perfect credit score so they cannot get the deals that wireless companies spend billions of dollars promoting. T-Mobile CEO and President John Legere wants to fix this problem by offering a new service called Smartphone Equality.

Smartphone Equality will offer the same financing options to all customers, including the ones with bad credit scores. This will become an option only if those customers have paid their T-Mobile bill on time for 12 months. Smartphone Equality went into effect as of yesterday.

“Last year, the carriers spent billions advertising deals and plans that half of Americans can’t get when signing up for wireless service. That’s complete BS,” said Legere. “We’ve created a better way with Smartphone Equality. Beginning now, your relationship with us counts more than your credit score − which means absolutely everyone can get the hottest smartphones at the best prices.”

Legere said that Smartphone Equality puts the relationships they have with loyal customers above their credit scores. And he believes that T-Mobile’s relationship with those customers are a better predictor of future behavior than their credit history. Here is Legere’s first vlog post where he discusses Smartphone Equality:

Every T-Mobile customer with a monthly voice plan can qualify to get the best device pricing and financing, including $0 down on smartphones without interest or a credit check. Prepaid customers can get the same deals through T-Mobile’s Simple Choice postpaid plans. 

Last month, T-Mobile also announced a service called “Data Stash,” which allows customers to carry over unused data for up to a year. This service is available for customers with eligible postpaid data plans. ATT ATT countered T-Mobile’s “Data Stash” with a service called Mobile Share Value, allowing customers to carry over unused data to the next month. Verizon CFO Fran Shammo said that they refuse to match T-Mobile’s “Data Stash” program because it does not make financial sense as the leading wireless company to follow.

T-Mobile posted this image promoting Smartphone Equality with the caption Qualifying for $0 down shouldn't be a privilege...It should be a standard. Today, the #SmartphoneEquality era begins / Credit: T-Mobile

T-Mobile posted this image on Facebook promoting Smartphone Equality with the caption: “Qualifying for $0 down shouldn’t be a privilege…It should be a standard. Today, the #SmartphoneEquality era begins” / Credit: T-Mobile

Has bad credit affected your ability to buy a smartphone? Will the T-Mobile Smartphone Equality program benefit yourself or someone you know? Let us know in the comments section below!

January 28, 2015
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TV white spaces project launched in Ghana

TV white spaces project launched in Ghana

TV white spaces project launched in Ghana.

Africa’s first commercial service network utilising TV white spaces was launched in Ghana, a statement reveals.

The commercial service, a partnership between Spectra Wireless and the Microsoft 4Afrika initiative, allows students in Ghana to buy affordable, high speed internet bundles and devices.

Spectra Wireless is the first company in Africa to offer a consumer broadband internet access service leveraging TV white space technology, the statement notes.

“Research by the Wi-Fi Alliance in the United States has revealed that 90% of students view access to Wi-Fi as critical to their success,” said Fernando de Sousa, general manager of Africa Initiatives at Microsoft.

De Sousa added, “…While the initial pilot project in Ghana offered wireless broadband to universities, this new commercial service allows students to have their own internet bundles, determine their own usage and purchase an internet-enabled device for anytime, anywhere access and enhanced productivity.”

According to the statement the cheapest data package starts at two Ghana cedi per day and provides 24 hours of access.

“We are breaking away from the standard way of selling Internet services in Africa,” Sam Darko, country leader of Spectra Wireless noted.

Darko said, “Everyone wants and needs access to the internet, but there are very few, if any, reliable, unlimited and affordable solutions for the masses. Our complete service for the tertiary education sector provides just that, and together with the application bundles and affordable devices we offer a complete technology upgrade to participating institutions. This service will transform education in Africa.”

The ITU’s ICT Facts revealed that Africa led in mobile-broadband growth with penetration in the continent reaching close to 20% in 2014, up from 2% in 2010.