No more crystal ball - TechCentral

No more crystal ball

Duncan McLeod

It’s almost the end of another year. It has become something of a tradition for me to use this column around this time each year to reflect on the 12 months past and to make some informed predictions about the technology year to come.

Last December, I made a number of predictions about what was likely to happen in the technology world in 2009. I concede I’m a little embarrassed: most of my predictions were well wide of the mark.

I predicted, for example, that late communications minister Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri would be replaced by her deputy, Roy Padayachie, after the April general election. Bong! Instead President Jacob Zuma appointed retired defence force general Siphiwe Nyanda to the job. But the biggest surprise was still to come: Nyanda, in the no-nonsense approach of a military man, set out to deal with the legacy of high telecoms prices left by his predecessor.

Then I reckoned Microsoft would delay the release of Windows 7 until 2010. Bong! Instead, the world’s biggest software maker released the new operating system on time. Not only that, but Windows 7 is arguably Microsoft’s best operating release yet.

Some of my other notable clangers from last year included a prediction that someone, possibly Altech, would buy Vox Telecom; that an international operator would buy a minority stake in Telkom; and that Apple would launch a version of the iPhone with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard. Bong, bong and bong!

One prediction I got right (well, kind of) was that Telkom would launch its own 3G mobile network. It’s taken the group longer than I expected, but it has finally committed to spending up to R6bn building a network to compete with incumbents Vodacom, MTN and Cell C. The mobile voice price war I predicted may still happen, but only next year.

I’m tempted to thumb-suck more predictions for the coming year. But given my record, I think it’s safer to draw up a wish list for 2010. So, this is what I’d like to see happen in the technology sector next year:

  • On Digital Media and Super5Media (formerly Telkom Media) launch to great success and give incumbent pay-TV operator MultiChoice a run for its money by offering consumers a wealth of new programming content. MultiChoice executives have long claimed they welcome competition to DStv as it will sharpen their game. Bring it on.
  • The Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) finally produces regulations that bring down communications costs. These include rules on local-loop unbundling, allowing broadband operators to serve consumers directly over Telkom’s so-called “last mile” of copper cables. The authority also takes ownership of the regulation of mobile interconnection rates, forcing mobile operators to reduce the fees they charge to cost (believed to be around 40c/minute). This is done over no more than three years.
  • Broadband prices really do begin to plummet thanks to new infrastructure projects. Prices began falling in 2009 with the launch of the Seacom undersea cable. But new cable systems, coupled with terrestrial fibre projects, have the potential to make uncapped broadband affordable to ordinary South Africans by this time next year.
  • Apple launches a game-changing tablet computer that doubles as an electronic book reader. On the back of consumer hysteria over the “iSlate”, e-book readers become de rigueur. Competition between Apple, Amazon.com, Sony, Barnes & Noble and a handful of Taiwanese manufacturers sends innovation into overdrive.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the complex underlying technology supporting the 2010 World Cup doesn’t malfunction and SA hosts a glitch-free event.

Fingers crossed.

  • McLeod is editor of TechCentral. This column is also published in the Financial Mail

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1 Comment

  1. I think your first point about competition to MultiChoice may not be what we expect. From a content perspective MC has tied up most of the rugby, cricket and soccer rights for a few years to come. As for the major international studios, once again MC has entered into “exclusivity” deals with them. Good content comes at a price and while ODM seems (from press reports) to be investing money in offering an alternative pay-TV choice, Super5Media has cut it’s staff by 40% (from a complement of 79) due to “economic reasons” – if the company can’t afford staff salaries, how can it afford competitive content – unless it’s going offshore to its Chinese bankroller for Chinese content.