The game has shifted from having kilobits per second to having gigabits per second. Photo: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – The mobile industry is changing at an exponential rate as new influences shape the way consumer expectations rise and the competition, new and old, pile on advancements such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) as being differentiators.

“The potential to monetise the anticipated data explosion has driven operator investment strategies for many telcos. Competitive intensity has heightened, and operators have been focused on reaching the underserved markets in rural areas with faster broadband offerings and upgrading to 3G and 4G/LTE networks”, said Mark Casey, Global Telecoms, Media and Entertainment Leader at Deloitte.

Telco operators in South Africa have laid foundations of 4G/LTE networks to mostly urban areas (63 percent) and a significant portion to rural areas. According to the survey, about 37 percent of rural areas in South Africa now have access to a 4G/LTE network. 

Against this background, Deloitte identified four themes that the industry faces, providing consumers and mobile operators with a unique guide to the evolving landscape. These are: i) choosing an operator, ii) Smartphone usage reaching a pinnacle, iii) Growth in mobile commerce and iv) Device ownership in South Africa.

Casey said the quality of the network with respect to internet provision, the availability of 4G/LTE coverage and usage of a network by family and friends were found to be the key drivers for consumers choosing a mobile operator. “The game has shifted from having kilobits per second to having gigabits per second.”

Deloitte found that South African mobile subscribers were looking for cheaper data prices to the extent that large-scale consumer activist movements had formed, such as the recent #DataMustFall and #SocialMediaBlackout campaigns. 

Such and other campaigns had some influence on the industry to lower data tariffs with the greatest impact being in the network technology layer – which is owned either by telcos, vendors or other tech players.

“Based on our findings, we found that the price of data is the most important factor influencing churn. Other factors such as the quality of the network for internet access, availability of 4G, the quality of customer service and device price are also important,” said Casey. 

The operator landscape is facing a difficult challenge of balancing consumer perceptions with respect to the price of data and the need for further network investments, including the anticipated move towards 5G and the inevitable need to satisfy the demand for data.

The scenario was not all that gloomy for new smartphones entering the market as consumers preferred to buy new phones overused ones, said Casey.

The percentage of consumers owning new phones overused phones increased from 78 percent in 2016 to 86 percent in 2017. About one in 10 consumers own a second-hand phone regardless of whether it is a feature phone or smartphone. 

The rate of mobile technology evolution is increasing, and new applications are emerging that attract an increasingly technologically savvy South African consumer base.

These factors, along with the mobile operators’ strategy of subsidising phones in the post-paid market, is expected to maintain the dominance in the new phone market over the used one.

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- BUSINESS REPORT