Vodacom chases mass-market Internet access - TechCentral

Vodacom chases mass-market Internet access

Vodacom Group CEO Pieter Uys

Vodacom is introducing a range of low-cost devices, including a US$40 smartphone, in an effort to broaden the market that has access to e-mail and the Web in SA — and keep the operator’s data growth buoyant.

The new smarphone, developed for Vodacom parent Vodafone and meant for use in emerging markets, has a Qwerty keyboard and a basic, 2,2-inch TFT display.

Made by China’s lower-cost manufacturer, ZTE, Vodacom says the phone will retail in SA for about R400 locally, or a fraction of the cost of other smartphones, which typically retail for at least 10 times that much.

Though not nearly as high quality as top-end smartphones, the ZTE device — known as the Vodafone 546 — features the Opera Mini Web browser, basic e-mail functionality (using POP and IMAP), FM radio, micro-USB connector, a 2-megapixel camera and a microSD card slot. However, it does not support third-generation mobile networks.

Vodacom Group CEO Pieter Uys says the price of basic handsets has already plummeted — the operator offers a R79 cellphone on prepaid — but the same now needs to happen with smartphones that offer access to the Internet.

“This is to get the bottom end of the market to use the technology, before they aspire for the iPhone or for Android,” Uys says.

Mark Taylor, managing executive for terminals, online and financial services at Vodacom, says only about 10% of handsets on the operator’s network can be classified as smartphones. The aim in the next 12 months is to increase that figure to 15%, he says.

“For the past 18 months, we’ve been thinking about how to drive down Internet access to the masses, and we mean the absolute masses,” Taylor says.

Apart from the R400 smartphone, Vodacom is introducing a basic touch-screen device for about R550, also made by ZTE. And it recently launched the Linkbook, a low-cost, Linux-based netbook computer with 3G aerial — reviewed here by TechCentral.

Another new initiative Vodacom is working on is the SkyPC, which is meant for use in Internet cafés in less wealthy areas. The computer, which runs open-source software, is meant to bring cheap Internet access to community centres and other areas where the Internet is not currently available.  — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral

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