MTN takes wraps off R999 WebBox rival - TechCentral

MTN takes wraps off R999 WebBox rival

MTN's InternetOnTv ... click image for larger version

MTN has unveiled InternetOnTV, a R999 living-room product that connects consumers to the Internet through a television set. The announcement comes just days after Vodacom took the wraps off a similar product of its own, the R749 WebBox.

MTN and Vodacom hope the offerings will extend Internet access to poorer South Africans.

InternetOnTV and the WebBox are both targeted at consumers who don’t already have access to a computer or the Internet at home.

Both devices connect to television sets using standard RCA cables. However, the two devices are vastly different.

MTN’s InternetOnTV has three separate components: a keyboard, a mouse, and a telephone that resembles a Telkom handset. The telephone is the hub of the device, housing the Sim card and connecting everything to the television.

Vodacom’s WebBox is far simpler, with the technology, including GPRS/Edge modem built into a keyboard, which connects to the TV. The cable on the MTN device is short, at 2m, shorter than the 3m on offer from Vodacom. MTN gains a little extra length because a keyboard cable extends its reach, but not by much.

InternetOnTV costs R999, almost R250 more than the WebBox. However, MTN says the device will be available from SA retailer Jet stores across the country and consumers can pay off the device over six months, without incurring any interest. It also supports wireless broadband at speeds of up to 7,2Mbit/s and it can also make telephone calls.

The R999 price tag includes a R60 airtime voucher, which MTN says can be converted to a 75MB data bundle. Much like Vodacom’s WebBox, which comes with a 100MB data bundle that must be used within three months, the InternetOnTV can be loaded with airtime denominations that can then be converted to data bundles.

Interestingly, MTN has plans to introduce a new data bundle that may be aimed specifically at users of the device. The company will offer a 90-minute uncapped data bundle, a spin-off of its 24-hour uncapped service. It hasn’t revealed pricing for the planned bundle.

InternetOnTV runs Qualcomm’s operating system, Brew. Qualcomm relaunched the operating system, originally developed for devices connecting to CDMA (code division multiple access) networks, intending to take it to mass-market devices.

It is not yet clear whether Brew allows users to download and install other applications on the device. Vodacom’s WebBox runs on Android, but does not connect to the Android Market.

Like the WebBox, MTN’s device also uses Opera Mini as its Web browser. It also offers social media integration, Microsoft Office document support (not yet supported on the WebBox) and access to e-mail. It has a built-in media player that plays MP3, AAC, DivX, WMA and Mpeg-4 files.

MTN, like Vodacom, has missed the opportunity to be innovative with the data offering on the InternetOnTV. Consumers have to buy prepaid data bundles or use expensive ad hoc prepaid data.

MTN has slightly more innovative ideas around prepaid data, including timed access that can be purchased instead of only offering per-megabyte options.

However, as with Vodacom’s offer, MTN could have taken a leaf out of BlackBerry’s book by offering unlimited on-device browsing for a set monthly amount — although, to be fair, MTN could run into trouble doing that given the InternetOnTV device supports 3G, unlike the WebBox.

Still, the target market is one that would probably be keen to have access to cheap and “worry-free” browsing.

Perhaps the planned 90-minute uncapped offering, if well priced, will encourage more users to take advantage of MTN’s offering.  — Candice Jones, TechCentral

10 Comments

  1. The form factor of this is bizarre. It’s made for a desktop, but connects to the TV in the living area. WTF?!

    I just went back and looked at the WebBox – it doesn’t have pointer control? No trackpad, trackball, anything? Another massive oversight. Browsing the web is a nightmare without a pointing device!

    I see both these devices as gigantic missed opportunities. The perfect package would be WebBox with a pointing device and Android’s native (Webkit) browser, and a 64kbit uncapped connection. That would truly empower the lower income groups and change the life of thousands, if not millions. I know if there was a package like that on the market, I’d probably buy one for both my maid (I bought her a fridge when the government gave her a house and electricity) and gardener, because I know it’d literally change their lives.

  2. Despite the 75Mb of data and the fugly look of the item, for those who don’t want the effort or cost of a fully fledged PC it’s a good idea.

    But if we could plug our own modems in we’d be sorted

  3. 100MB for what? i agree with Auntie Candice that they should offer something similar to RIM’s offering

  4. MTN & Vodacom may have the business model wrong but the concepts are superb.

    1) They are very low bandwidth devices and don’t need a massive amount of data to function very effectively.
    2) They serve a very valuable market segment who are desperate for connectivity and already own TV sets. The value of access to internet, Google, email, etc. are proven drivers of education and the economy in emerging markets.
    3) The video quality is very very acceptable on a cheap TV or monitor.

    If they (the operators) created a “ring fenced” model with either a private APN or Policy Controller they could easily have a fixed monthly fee product which is affordable to very low income groups and profitable for the operators.

    Rather than “trashing” the concept with our urban, educated, high income perspective on the world we should be looking at the opportunities created by these products rather than dismissing them? Let’s not forget that the moment we leave the comfort of our cities we look a lot like the rest of Africa – with all of the problems that come with being part of a very poor economy.

  5. This guys did not do their reseach pretty well because, a second hand PC with Pentium 1.8 gig processor, 40 gig H/drive, 512Mb Ram, 17″ CRT screen, keyboard and mouse and 3g modem cost around R1000.00. So tell me who are the poor communities who will buy such a divice which will disturb them from watching their favourit soapies, for poor quality of video, basicaly slower processor etc.
    anywere vodacom is already saling a 3G modem for R399.00 with 100MB per month for 12 months as prepayed.
    Cell C in offering a R1500.00 once off prepayed Modem plus 2 gig data bundle per month for 12 months. So the webox and the Internet on TV things would not work very well with the poor.

  6. @George – the problem with your solution is that it is a high bandwidth solution that cannot easily control network OPEX (read end user cost) and will therefore be far more expensive for the user. 3G is not required for speed but to control network costs to ensure that the solution can be deployed cheaply enough to be both affordable and profitable.

  7. Both companies have missed the market by a decade. 10 years ago when fewer households could afford computers, this product would have been relevant

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