/ 26 June 2008

Vodacom boosts internet, multimedia offerings

From Thursday, Vodacom customers will be able to view all internet sites from their WAP-enabled cellphones, bringing the internet within reach of millions of South Africans who don’t own a computer.

Vodacom said that in a first for the country, its mobile internet service will ensure an accurate representation of the internet on a cellphone through technology that adapts the computer-screen format of any website into a smaller, cellphone-friendly format.

The content and design are not changed — only the format is adjusted to suit the screen size and processing power of the host cellphone. Customers now effectively have the same experience of the internet on their cellphones as they do on a PC, the company said.

“The real impact of this development will finally bring the internet to the masses,” said Vodacom South Africa MD Shameel Joosub.

The market penetration of cellphones is very high in South Africa, he explained, whereas the level of computer ownership is relatively low — a typical characteristic of emerging markets. He estimates that cellular SIM penetration is more than 94% compared with less than 10% internet penetration.

“This is a technological revolution every bit as significant as the introduction of cellphones was in 1994, when millions of South Africans without a fixed-line telephone were pushed headlong into the communication age. Now they are going to be introduced to the internet age,” he added.

This move brings South Africa into line with several European countries such as France and England, where this state-of-the-art form of mobile internet was launched about a year ago — driven to a large extent by Vodacom’s United Kingdom shareholder, Vodafone.

The company estimates that at least a third of its 24,8-million customers already have cellphones (2,5G or 3G WAP-enabled) capable of browsing the internet and benefiting from its mobile internet service.

Zooped up
Meanwhile, it also emerged on Thursday that Vodacom has secured a 40% stake in South African-based social-media community website Zoopy.com. The deal affirms Vodacom’s change in business direction by entering the multimedia market.

Launched in March last year, Zoopy users can upload and share videos, photos, podcasts and blogs, making the website a significant player in the user-generated content space in Africa. Recently Zoopy was also chosen as the Mail & Guardian Online‘s video delivery partner.

“We couldn’t have asked for a more committed, encouraging or inspiring partner. Their investment will give us the resources we need to be able to bring our users more exciting, useful and innovative additions to Zoopy features and functionality,” said Jason Elk, CEO of Zoopy.

“By combining our mobile and online strengths, the future is brighter than ever for our community: new technologies, new frontiers and endless possibilities to do so much more.”