Business is booming in the cellular telephone industry, with the
neglected rural and disadvantaged communities providing ample room
to accommodate a third network, writes GREG GORDON|
Room for more in a growing industry
THE SA cellphone industry continues to grow and the number of subscribers could mushroom to 3-million people by the turn of the century - trebling the 1-million number of current users.
While those figures put smiles on the faces of the two network operators, regulatory authorities are disappointed with the networks' penetration into rural and disadvantaged communities. For this reason a study is under way to determine the feasibility of a third network operator that would address this market.
Legislation requiring the study should be rubber-stamped in about a year, and then the bidding process to run the network will begin. Post and Telecommunications Minister Jay Naidoo says rural markets can be hugely profitable for network operators but so far it is one area that the two current network operators have largely ignored in favour of the sure-thing urban areas and national roads.
South Africa uses the digital GSM (global system for mobile communications) system for cellular communications which allies it closely with Europe and Scandinavia, where GSM technology is strong. GSM is, in fact, the dominant cellular technology across the world and that is good news for SA cellphone users, who will remain exposed to cutting-edge cellular technology.
They have much to look forward to. Cellphone manufacturers are starting to talk about high-speed data communications over cellular networks and a range of new devices that will take full advantage of this. Pretty soon you will be able to download entertainment off the Internet for kids in the car or even pay for an airline ticket using GSM technology.
The cellular networks are also being used in the fight against crime. Apart from being used to call in on-the-spot help for victims of crime, the networks are used by vehicle tracking companies to plot and then retrieve stolen vehicles.
On the road, however, cellphones remain a danger when not used with a hands-free kit as a growing number of accidents are attributable to dangerous cellphone use in cars.
As cellular networks become more "intelligent", so they will be able to offer subscribers a greater number of features and flexibility. Video conferencing via cellular devices is not far off and already it is possible to get weather and share prices beamed into your phone.
Handsets are about as small as they are going to get - the next frontier will be longer battery life and lighter phones.
Perhaps the greatest accelerator of network growth is competition. MTN and Vodacom have introduced innovative pricing packages that make cellphones an option for a broader range of people. Although a third cellular operator will just dent the market share of both current network operators, it will further spur competition - and that is good news for all users.