Jajah zones - a gauge for telecoms efficiency?

Christmas day this year saw a notable first for South Africans - free calls, all day, on and between all networks, provided the call was initiated using the website of Jajah.com. In fact South Africans could make free phone calls using Jajah to landlines or cellphones in some 90 countries! Jajah is basically a callback service where one enters the telephone numbers of all parties to a proposed call on the website and waits for the telephones to ring, starting with the one initiating the call. Conference calls are supported automatically, of course. Jajah is not free but calls are the same price all day and the price depends only on in which of five zones a country is and (for most countries) on whether a cellphone is involved or not. For four countries (Canada, the USA, Singapore and China) the costing is independent of whether a cellphone is used or not and these countries make up Jajah's Zone 1.

Normally a Jajah call consists of two parts - each a connection to the country of the one party. The price of the calls therefore has two parts and the higher the zone number, the higher the cost of that part of the call. So, although the pricing on Jajah resembles that of the London Underground at first glance, in being based on zones, it is rather different because a call between Zone 1 and a Zone 2 landline is much less expensive than a call between two landlines in Zone 3. Jajah's free calls on Christmas day were between all phones in Zones 1-3, incidentally. The complete Jajah rates table gives further information and is stunningly simple by comparison to the rates information of most mobile or fixed-line telecoms providers. Note that Jajah provides free calls between the ordinary telephones of registered users in Zone 1 (all phones) and Zone 2 (landlines only).

The 36 countries in Zones 1 and 2 are simply those countries which have a telecommunications policy that delivers cheap calls to their citizens. The main difference between Zone 1 and Zone 1 countries is in the cost of cellphone calls and here readers who have followed developments in the telecommunications industry should note the position of the United States, which had always been thought a straggler in the cellphone world, in Zone 1. Supported by my growing conviction that simple and transparent indicators, preferably not provided by governements, are by far the best, I want to suggest that a country's zoning on Jajah is a very good indicator of the success of its telecommunications policy and industry. It is a very clear indication of the cost of placing a call in or two that country and the provider of the indicator (Jajah) can be fully trusted as they are "putting their money where their mouth is" by providing calls to a country at the rates applicable to that specific zone. The profit motive and competition will insure that Jajah put a country in as good a Zone as possible.

Sadly, South Africa (self-confident candidate for the UN Security Coucil and future Soccer World Cup host) currently languishes in Jajah's Zone 3 with the likes of Armenia, Bangladesh, Malawi and Laos. Perhaps we should count our blessings that we are not in Zone 4 (with Zimbabwe and Afghanistan) or the dreaded Special Zone (Cuba, Congo, Somalia etc.) but is it really where the country (16th in the world in electricity consumption and 27th in population) should be aiming? Our telecommunications regulators, monopolistic nouveau capitalists (you know who you are!) and government ministers are fond of emphasising the remoteness of SA - and is that not a delightfully eccentric Eurocentric interpretation? - in explaining the high cost of our telephone and Internet services. But, can they explain why we are in Zone 3 but Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan, Thailand and Russia (so huge that it's remote and close to everything at the same time) are all in Zone 2?

Could ICASA and the Minister of Communication include a statement in their annual self-assessment on South Africa's position w.r.t. the Jajah zoning system and explain what progress has been made in moving to Zone 2? I hope so, and I am copying this blog entry both to ICASA and to the Ministry for their information.


Porn to emigrate?

UPDATE: FPB spokesman Iyvar Chetty has been quoted as saying that "We would like to be in a position to be able to police the distribution of pictures via cellphones." And, by this he apparently does mean that naughty picture you sent your significant other on Valentine's Day. Sjoe.

South Africa's dreaded Film and Publication Board (FPB, a remarkably resilient left-over from the dark days when police once actually ripped film from the projectors in a cinema where I had already bought a ticket) has ordered local websites to cease distributing pornography by the end of 2006 unless they obtain a license from the FPB. It appears the konsessiekultuur (local version of the Indian license raj) has had another ugly revival and one can only wonder what the aim of the exercise is.

South Africans will certainly still be able to participate in the making of pornography and they will surely still be viewing it. Those wishing to see S/Jannie(s) doing it to J/Sannie(s) however, now have to go to a Danish-operated website and let those poor Danish people make a few dollars and pay taxes in Denmark instead of us selfishly keeping the revenue and taxes in Africa. What about international companies operating in South Africa, like Google? Will they be applying for licenses from the FPB? Anybody doubting whether Google distributes pornography, should click here (but only if over 18, not resident in Saudi Arabia, not currently in the office, not my mother etc.).


Setting the law free

A few days ago, I read an article on the Sunday Times website about an integrated electronic document system in a pilot phase at 36 regional courts in the Durban area. In South Africa it is a very common problem that files "get lost" when suspects are supposed to appear in court. Ours being a civilised legal system, sloppy paper work leads to findings of innocence. The expansion of the Durban project to the rest of the country will - one hopes - go some way to addressing these problems. While browsing Breaking Barriers: The Potential of Free and Open Source Software for Sustainable Human Development - A Compilation of Case Studies from Across the World this evening I chanced upon an article describing the JuriBurkina project, supported in part by software developed at Canadian universities, for providing free access to court decisions and other documentation in Burkina Faso. The Burkina project uses mainly free and open source software in the interest of sustainability and affordability. There is a similar project, the Southern African Legal Information Institute, in our part of the world, also supporting the Montreal Declaration on Free Access to Law which includes the laudable
Public legal information is digital common property and should be accessible to all on a non-profit basis and free of charge;

among its stipulations. After all, the taxpayer has already paid for it once!


Vodacom3G herkou my SMS vir 24uur

Die afgelope week of twee het ek my selfoon permanent en uitsluitlik op die 3G-netwerk ingestel nadat ek besef het dat dít eweveel die batterylewe help bespaar is om 3G-modus heeltemal uit te skakel. Die rede hiervoor is dat dit oënskynlik die gedurige oorskakel tussen 3G en die ouer netwerk is wat die batterylewe van my geliefde Samsung erg verkort. In Pretoria is die 3G-netwerk orals beskikbaar waar ek gaan en ek verbeel my die oproepkwaliteit daarop is baie goed, dalk omdat dit (net?) op 1800MHz werk. Gister in die tou by die kasregister in die nuwe Hipermark in Montana sien ek egter dat ek die 3G-netwerk verloor het en skakel die foon toe terug op gewone GSM-modus. Feitlik onmiddelik kom daar toe sowat ses SMS-boodskappe van die vorige dag deur.

Toeval? Ek glo nie. Waarsku Vodacom mense dat die oorskakeling tussen 3G en die gewone GSM-netwerk moontlik problematies is? Ek glo nie. Hierdie ervaring het my groeiende besef dat selfone 'n 15jaar-oue tegnologie is wat nou omtrent so flink is soos 'n Sony Walkman, versterk. Die SA-poskantoor het in praktyk deesdae (soms) aflewering in Pretoria op die eerste dag ná 'n brief gepos is. Sal Vodacom kan byhou by die SAPK?


Numbers Stations: "five-nine-three-four...."

As a child (this was before the Internet!), listening to shortwave radio was a fascinating way to connect to the outside world. One of the intriguing features of this world has long been the so-called numbers stations - usually automated voices simply reading out streams of digits all day long. BBC4 has just broadcast a nice documentary (RealAudio stream) on these stations. Radio Sonder Grense has also had a documentary about such stations in Afrikaans. As usual the Wikipedia entry Numbers Station has a lot of additional information and many links.


Telkom line(')s down

The number of Telkom fixed line telephone connections has declined yet again, down more that 100 000 year-on-year since September 2005, according to a MyADSL article. Since Telkom is still (effectively) the monopoly provider, regular readers of this blog (and many others) will not be suprised. SA's teledensity seems set to remain, resolutely, below 10% and the government's target of 5% broadband penetration looks like pure fantasy.

OKOSA (ICASA) trap RadioX

Die Onafhanklike Kommunikasie-Owerheid van Suid-Afrika (ICASA), wat so besig is dat hulle in 2002 laas 'n permanente uitsaailisensie toegestaan het, het toegeslaan op RadioX - 'n laedrywing FM-sender in die noorde van Johannesburg en al RadioX se toerusting gekonfiskeer, aldus MyADSL. In 2005 het OKOSA ook Klub Radio 100, 'n radiosender op Orania (kan die spektrum dáár regtig oorbelas wees?), gesluit. Myns insiens gaan dit hier oor vryheid van spraak. Die aansoekproses vir 'n uitsaailisensie is ondeursigtig, omslagtig en duur. Toe ek vanoggend die webwerf van OKOSA besoek, en kyk onder broadcasting... licensing... community - toe kry ek niks anders as die boodskap "There are no documents loaded in this section, please check again later" nie. Tensy 'n mens die regering (oeps... SAUK) is of 'n SEB-maatskappy met diep sakke, kry 'n mens oënskynlik nie 'n lisensie nie. Die Grondwet van Suid-Afrika se Artikel 192 bepaal dat
’n Onafhanklike owerheid moet deur nasionale wetgewing ingestel word om die uitsaaiwese in die openbare belang te reguleer en om toe te sien dat regverdigheid geskied en ’n verskeidenheid van sienswyses aangebied word wat in die breë verteenwoordigend van die Suid-Afrikaanse samelewing is.

en hierdie bepalings word herhaal en beklemtoon in die wetgewing wat OKOSA tot stand gebring het. Hoe OKOSA se toepassings daarmee strook, weet nugter alleen.


TelFree - new SA VOIP operator launches

VOIP service provider TelFree is marketing a broadband telephony product in South Africa with a local number and interconnectivity agreements with other local telcos. This is something of a first in South Africa but before I put down my R39/month (which is what I recall the price is for their dial-in number), let me remark that

  • I tried to call the TelFree VOIP customer service number +27-87-750-0097 from Skype, Telkom and Vodacom - and could not get through at all ("invalid number" etc.);

  • TelFree's stated aim of making "fixed-line and cellphone calls will cost an average of 15% to 35% less than existing Telkom rates" is very unambitious and their advertised rates are far higher than that of SkypeOut;

  • TelFree is in fact listing several Telkom numbers on its contact page which makes one wonder how much faith they have in their own product.

I, for one, support every effort to use VOIP to break the stranglehold that Telkom and its spawn have on the South African consumer and I would actually perhaps like to have a South African dial-in number (for my Ouma to call me on when I am abroad) but it should be inexpensive and it should work. Will TelFree be able to provide this service, as advertised?


Amerika stem, maar hoe?

Sien ook E-voting stories rounded up.

As kind het ek gedink dat verwysings na "pulling the lever" in Amerikaanse verkiesings net beeldspraak is. Ek moes in die VSA gaan woon om te leer dat Amerikaners reeds meer as 100 jaar lank masjiene in die stemhokkie gebruik. Volgens A Brief Illustrated History of Voting deur D.W. Jones is die eerste Myers Automatic Booth in 1892 (sic) in die deelstaat New York gebruik in 'n verkiesing. Dié artikel bevat terloops ook baie interessante foto's van stemmasjienerie. In die presidensiële verkiesings van 1996 het byvoorbeeld sowat 40% van kiesers in die VSA van ponskaartmasjiene (rekenaarwetenskapstudente uit die baie vroeë 1980's sal dit nog onthou) gebruik te maak om hul stem te registreer. Een van die voordele van die ponskaarte is dat daar 'n handmatig naspeurbare spoor is van die kieser se intensie. Dít het juis tot baie omstredenheid gelei (byvoorbeeld die sogenaamde hanging chad) maar 'n mens moet besef dat enige stelsel wat geen twis oplewer nie, ook nie 'n naspeuring of verifikasie van die kieser se intensie kan akkommodeer nie.

In die Amerikaanse verkiesings van gister hoef prakties geen stem met die hand getel te word nie en dít is waarom ons vandag (wat in dele van Amerika eintlik nog gister is) reeds die uitslag weet. Vir 'n Suid-Afrikaner sou 'n suiwer meganiese of elektroniese kiesstelsel egter baie vreemd voorkom, maar die prys wat ons vir ons outydse korrektheid betaal is dat ons verkiesingsuitslae baie stadig uitkom. Indië en Brasilië het byvoorbeeld reeds volledig elektroniese kiesstelsels in plek. Dit is seker in my klassebelang om 'n stelsel te ondersteun waar 'n mens minstens 15 jaar (en 'n halfmiljoen rand) se opvoeding nodig het om te kan verifieer of die stelsel regverdig is al dan nie, maar is die punt van die demokrasie nie juis om die hele samelewing (insluitend, in SA, die tronkvoëls) te betrek by 'n burgerlike oefening in gelykheid nie? Sou dit ook werk indien ons rekenaars vir ons stem en, sê maar, die een wie se rekenaar die moeilikste wiskundige probleem binne 24 uur kan oplos se stem die meeste tel? Ek glo nie.


Digital convergence - the Empires strike back

Summary: Digital convergence means that services and content have broken the connection with physical infrastructure. If you ever got on the plane in Jo'burg, landed in Kuala Lumpur and used Google on your cellphone to find the address of your hotel on the Internet, you'll know what I mean. However, mighty companies and government are massing their forces to contain this technological revelution...

UPDATES: Motorola Africa and Middle-East chief calls for radical deregulation in SA; article on licensing of new TV providers in SA, by Russell Southwood; British Institute for Public Policy Research calls for right to copy.

With great displeasure but no big surprise, I have just read an unconfirmed report in a forum about Telkom's plans to throttle Skype traffic on the South African ADSL network. One can safely assume the intention to be to protect their lousy and expensive "plain old telephony service" (POTS) also known as "landline voice". Especially so since people are now using SkypeOut even to call local numbers in SA.

Telkom is not the only player to have reacted to the phenomenon of digital convergence by jumping out of bed with guns blazing. Cellphone networks MTN and Vodacom have indicated that they might control or apply surcharges to VOIP traffic on their mobile data networks. Never at the back of the line when the buffet is open, the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) is looking into requiring television licenses for cellphones if they can be used to receive TV signals. Another long-standing fan of social control, the government of Germany, is actually implementing such licences from January - and not only for cellphones, but also for computers - to the tune of €5,52 (approximately R50,00 which is actually considered a discount in Germany, being closer to the radio fee!) per month since these can be used to access television over the Internet. Just imagine paying R600,00 per year in television license fees each for your laptop, your desktop and your spare server!

Why are they all doing it? Well, business - but the business is protecting the returns on their license rights. It is not business as much as it is blatant rent seeking. Licences and monopolies are often justified by so-called universal service obligations, but consider cellphone licenses: according the the GSM Association, in 92 countries surveyed $6000m has been collected in "universal access" levies of which only $75m has been spent on actually expanding mobile coverage. This exposes the way governments are using licenses as a de facto tax which - needless to say - is easier to collect from a few large corporations, and for which the general public will slowly but surely pay the full price, collected (leftists would say extracted) from them by the very same corporations. In SA the Universal Service and Access Agency is reported to be on track to achieve its target of 20% fixed-line penetration in 1500 (sic) years' time at its current rate of spending. Only the comatose would refrain from questioning whether this system is working.

To what extent is territorial jurisdiction even relevant when services have become pervasive on the entire Internet? I have used Skype in at least a half a dozen countries to call people all over the world and - I guess - the only tax paid has been Skype's taxes on corporate profits (wherever they realize those profits - I have no idea). The SA government has, in my opinion, as little to say about our use of Skype as they have over the scone you might eat on a flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam. The idea that services are provided in a specific national territory to persons in that territory by organisations based in the same territory is simply a risible anachronism. If they prohibit our use of a specific service (as did in fact use to be the case with Skype and other VOIP) which is of clear business and personal utility, are they acting in the interest of their own citizens? I think not.

So, what should regulators do? First of all, they need to realize that there is no longer much of a relationship between the nature of a service (involving communication of some kind) and the public resources (spectrum, trenches under the road) that it uses. If I have shop in a correctly zoned area of the city, the government does not have much business telling me whether I should sell men's socks or computers. Similarly, if I run a radio/fibre link between houses in a suburb, it is hard for me to see why the government should decide whether I should provide television signals, telephone connections, or both on it.

Some regulation of the radio spectrum usage and the amount of public space occupied by utility cables is - of course - not out of place. But, if I already have a legally run cable (on which I have, say, television) how on earth can it be in the public interest to prohibit me from also providing a telephone service on it? Even more so if I run a thin cable through the pipes belonging to another legal operator, from which I merely rent the - hitherto empty - space. The regulation of services separately (e.g. television and voice communications) belongs to an age when these were delivered by radically different and incompatible means, and when there was a scarcity of both. After almost 100 years of both, it is perhaps time for the state to "get out of the kitchen". The danger of anybody ending up without television or telephone service is slim indeed. There is no reason why broadcasting and telecommunications need more or heavier regulation in a modern economy than does the milk industry!

In the case of Telkom and VOIP/Skype, note that each ADSL client already has a rather modest monthly bandwidth allocation (for which we should thank Telkom) and Skype does not in any case use a lot of bandwidth. Now, Telkom has a license for (and monopoly on) the provision of ADSL connections on its copper wires but NOT a license for specifically providing Internet MINUS Skype. If they are not satisfied with the current license, I believe that they should return it. Telkom may then apply for a new license - this time to provide ADSL Internet MINUS Skype and try to explain to the regulators and the general public why this would be to our (and not their) advantage.

In an open and liberal society any activity which does not directly contradict the established rights of individuals or institutions should not be summarily criminalised. However, this is what an invasive regulatory regime inevitably does. In India this strong-armed approach has always been called the license raj. The South African version can perhaps be called the konsessiekultuur, after the method of the Kruger government to grant so-called concessions for the (monopoly) establishment of specific industries. The elegant Sammy Marks House, just east of Pretoria, is a testimony to that culture. Sammy Marks received concessions i.a. for the sole right to manufacture glass jam jars in the Transvaal republic more that 100 years ago. His descendants (and money) are now in England, of course.

Where some case can be made for imposing regulations on business already operating these should are best inforced through the courts rather than through a license raj. For example, local content rules on radio stations in SA have given a powerful boost to our popular musical culture but the responsibility for enforcement should lie with the regulator - and not by the current system where new entrants to the market have to, as it were, prove themselves innocent before they can start. The regulators can gladly examine all 6500 stations on Live365 and try to determine if any operate from/to SA in a meaningful sense and try to convince a court to prosecute the owners if they do not comply with the regulations. But, can they really stop me from listening to BBC3 using a wireless broadband connection in my car? Nope.

It is perhaps instructive to return to an early example of business regulation. As with so many things in the modern world, this is to be found in the United States. The Interstate Commerce Commission was created in 1887, not to establish railroads but simply to address issues of competition and market dominance with respect to the already extant and vast railroad system of the United States. The US did not "get" a good rail system because of "good" regulation of the industry - it got one because the industry was allowed to developed with hardly any regulation at all.

Further reading: The Economist's special report on digital convergence


WiFi op Pretoria-strate

NEWSFLASH: free surfing now reported to be available on the Pretoria public WiFi network (2006-10-24).

English summary: the metropolitan council in the Pretoria area have launched a public wireless network in certain parts of the city in conjunction with private service providers. This week I took my laptop to Hatfield in order to test it - and it works! The network's homepage is here.

Ek het die Toyota opgesaal en in Prospectstraat, tussen Grosvener en Hilda (satellietfoto), hierdie toegangspunt (TP) gevind. Dit is nogal groter as die soort TP wat 'n mens by die huis gebruik. Ek dink die 'karwag' het gedink ek is stapelgek.
Stokou skootrekenaar oopgeslaan en 'n sterk sein oorkant die pad van die TP gekry, binne die motor. Beide van die sigbare toeganspunte behoort tot die metro-netwerk. Ubuntu Linux het onmiddelik aangeteken op die eerste TP.
Firefox is natuurlik direk gestuur na 'n inligtingsbladsy waar die besonderhede van die netwerk en die private diensverskaffers gegee word (dit is dieselfde as hierdie bladsy). Volgende vraag: kan 'n mens Skype terwyl jy bestuur?


Software Freedom Day 2006 (Pretoria)

Spring drizzle heralded the Software Freedom Day 2006 event on Saturday 2006-09-16 at the impressive new Department of Science and Technology building next to the N1 in Pretoria. The two gentleman below, pictured making legal copies of open-source software using a Freedom Toaster, were among the many Linux enthusiasts who attended.

Die jonge here hierbo het van die Freedom Toaster by die kantore van die Departement Wetenskap en Tegnologie gebruik gemaak ten tyde van die uitstalling vir Software Freedom Day 2006 in Pretoria.


To Russia, with love

On the occasion of last week's visit to our country by President Putin, and several Comrade Ministers' coy reminiscences in the media ("after a while we discovered one or two small flaws") of their exile days in the Soviet Union and barbed references to the dreadful state of post-Soviet Russia, I offer this chart.

Data source: International Telecommunication Union (ITU). 2006. World Telecommunication Indicators 2005. Geneva: ITU. Tabulated at WRI.


President on board!

Reuters wrote on Monday from the annual meeting of Mopresidente with advisers from IBM, HP etc. in the Kruger Park. Mr Mbeki reportedly said that "the government had so far failed in its mandate to lower tariffs" in telecommunications and that "the cost element is too high ... It is a matter of urgency."

Spot-on, Sir, but do we need more of the same? Telkom has now managed to actually reduce the number of land-lines in service year-on-year (and before you think it is all because of cellphones, look at China's numbers). His Minister really only talks about initiatives involving state-owned (or partly so) companies. What about radical deregulation, letting in the foreign companies and also unbundling the local loop? Celebrity economist Dawie Roodt said this week that the cost in lost growth of the Telkom monopoly to the SA economy is running at R10 000 000 000,00 per year. That seems like a conservative estimate.

Telecoms is not the only area in which SA is proving a laggard. According to the IFC several countries in Africa are now reforming their economies at a faster pace than SA and our country has dropped one position to 29th in their Doing Business survey, mainly because of the excessive complexity of the tax system.


Telkom shocks, again

As the graph below shows, the teledensity in South Africa (the number of fixed-line telephone lines per head of population) is now below the level of 1995.
It appears that the corporatised, privatised and listed Telkom has been less successful than the telephone operation of the SA Post Office was during 1980-1990 at providing the SA public with telephone lines. Nasty.

Telecoms Action Group

The good people of Tectonic have launched a Telecoms Action Group website where people have already pledge R11 000,00 (in under 24 hours) towards a full-page newspaper advertisement against Telkom and for competition in the sector. Since South Africa's failed regulation of the sector has been reported as costing the country at least R4 000 000 000,00 per year, please pledge and help to drag the country into the 21st century before Buck Rogers has to come and do it.

Soos Johannes Kerkorrel gesê het: Gee, Gee, Gee....


Now, where did I put my keys...

According to an article in The Register in May of 2006, the British government
plans to bring into force a controversial power that can require the disclosure of an encryption key on pain of five years' imprisonment.

These powers derive from the UK's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000, amended by the Terrorism Act of 2006, according to the Register article. No doubt, recent events have not cooled the ardour of the government in London in this regard.

What, however, about public-key cryptography (PKC)? Say I needed to receive a secret message from a putative cousin in Cardiff. To this end, I might have provided her with my public key which she would be able to use to encrypt the message which she'd dispatch to me, and presumably store (encrypted) in her e-mail's Sent folder. Should I receive the message, I would use my private key to decrypt it. Now, assume the Welsh police raid her house and ask her to provide a key for decrypting the message she had sent to me earlier. She would certainly not be able to provide such a key - as she had never had it in the first place. In PKC, the key that is used to encrypt the message is not sufficient for its decryption. Now, the Welsh police might seek the private key from me in Pretoria, but what jurisdiction do they have? And would the South Afrian authorities extradite me for a crime which - hold on - took place in a country in which I did not find myself at the time, exercising my (in SA) constitutional right to privacy? One would hope not.

It seems that authorities everywhere are still surprised and shocked when a tool that is useful in business and everyday life turns out to be of use to criminals - even more so when the authorities have little familiarity with the technology in question. I am a bit surprised, actually, that the umbrella and the flashlight have not yet been more strictly regulated.


Certainly not, Lulu

Ms Lulu Letlape, Telkom's Group Executive of Corporate Communication proudly declares in the M&G that

With 70% of Telkom’s top management being black, the company’s leadership particularly understands the needs of the impoverished, as most have risen up the corporate ladder from extremely modest beginnings. This is hardly the kind of leadership that will tolerate the marketing of products and services that “rip off the poor” (M&G Business, July 28).

Now, according to the Telkom's 2005 annual report as of 31 March 2004 the company had 4,72m fixed-line customers (including businesses and payphones - fewer than Switzerland, a hilly convenience stop on the motorway from Copenhagen to Rome) for a country of 47m people. How many poor customers can they have? Compare the 4,72m lines in 2004 to 4,26m in 1996 (source: ITU) and 3,66m in 1993 (source: government green paper). That is just over 1m new lines in 11 years and I would be glad to see some brave soul compare that to the growth in the period 1982-1993! Now, I respectively submit that - having come from modest beginnings and NOT having risen up the corporate ladder - I might actually be in a better position, in spite of my sometimes somewhat pale complexion, to understand the position of the impoverished than Ms Letlape and her fellow executives. But, she is absolutely right in saying that Telkom does not rip off of the poor - it practically avoids dealing with them at all.


010 or 001? Local no longer lekker...

ICASA have announced that, from October, South Africans will have to use the dialling code in all calls. No more 7-digit local calls from your fixed-line phone - you will need 10 digits to dial the neighbours. Among other things, this will allow for the introduction of the new 010 dialling code in the Johannesburg area. At the same time, the international prefix will be changed from 09 to the European style 00. Now, if - instead of a local number - I get a local number in the US (which is routed through the Internet to my home in Pretoria), people will have to dial 13 digits to reach me instead of 10. It doesn't seem like a big difference to me - why 010-456-7890 ('Gauteng') and not 001-345-789-2345 ('North America') to reach me in Pretoria?

For Skype and other VOIP users as well as from abroad it will be 80% cheaper to phone me on the 001 number (where I can get services like voicemail to e-mail for free). In the worst case, South African users pay less than to call a local cellphone to reach my 001 number. The North American number has much lower monthly rental and provides very cheap calls all over the world, including to SA. Huh? Who wants 010?

Incidentally, if you want the convenience of 7-digit dialling, get yourself and your friends and family all numbers in the same US dialling code...


SA - last in Africa?

The good people at Antitrust.co.za have made a video comparing the cost of an ADSL connection in SA and in Mozambique. Watch and weep (unless you are in Maputo, where there are beaches and prawns as well when you get tired of the Internet). The Gizmo Project now offers free phone calls to landlines and cellphones (somewhat complicated conditions apply!) in Malawi and to landlines in Zambia - the only African countries I spotted where the service is available. Guess who has a more liberal telecoms policy than SA...

BTW, Zimbabwean dissidents (mentioned below), NIA (I get the impression from their website that my secrets are safe) leaks and other characters should grab Scatterchat for some secure comms.


The new economy of voice

Go treat yourself to five minutes of free high-quality phone-to-phone call(s) from JaJah - from anywhere to anywhere. Behind the cute retro interface is a pretty standard callback service, with callbacks initiated from the Web. These services, a couple of years ago, initiated the driving down of international call costs. Even Telkom, the slow-moving dinosaur miraculously still alive in South Africa, got the point and in SA it is today often cheaper to call abroad than to make a domestic call from their phones because of the competition introduced through callback.

What does JaJah do? You provide two numbers (A and B, say) on the JaJah website, and their computer (one presumes...) places two calls in order to connect the parties. Why is this (and other callback services) cheap? If A calls B from a normal phone, A has no control over how the call is routed since A's telephony service provider will relay the call at a price previously announced to its customers. If A initiaties the call through JaJah, however, JaJah can use a (previously determined) point X from which the sum of the costs of connecting X to A and X to B is a minimum. The cost of the triangular connection is usually less than that of the direct call, in the same way that the direct flight from Johannesburg to London is hardly ever the cheapest ticket on the route (which was via Sofia for a long time).

Why might such a point X exist? Well, A and B can normally receive calls for free (US cellphones are the major exception) and hundreds of operators in different countries will have agreements with the operators of A and B respectively to accept calls from them. The operators are much more readily able to negotiate lower prices than end-users are and JaJah's job is simply to identify the operator with the lowest prices to A and B and route the calls via this lowest-cost operator X.

Why should traditional telephony operators be very, very afraid? If JaJah can connect my cellphone to practically any phone in the world for close to the price of a local South African call, why would I buy any service from Vodacom (my GSM operator) other than (practically free) incoming calls. Vodacom will be left to negotiate interconnect prices with other operators - its sole remaining source of income - and customers in the juicy local market for which it holds a license will provide practically no real income at all.

Why is this outcome likely? A service like JaJah needs very little information to connect A and B - just the two numbers, and the authentication of an account holder. Traditionally, this has been (partly) via caller ID, in traditional callback. There are nowadays very many ways of conveying this information - the Internet, SMS, mobile data services etc. - and operators already using them.

Callback operators perhaps need to make their services a little easier to use and they certainly have a lot of competion from pc-to-phone operators like Skype but for many applications callback remains a threat to traditional telcos - the very basis of which is free incoming calls and the great ease with which a few bytes of data (the two numbers) can be passed around the world.

This posting should not be construed as providing investment advice.


Nommer, asseblief nie!

MWeb het 'n goeie nuwe produk, Broadband Talk, vir die Suid-Afrikaanse mark bekendgestel. Ongelukkig is daar net één probleem met hulle Internet-telefoondiens - 'n mens sal uit alle lande dié 08770-nommer kan skakel van 'n gewone foon af, behalwe van SA.

Die rede hiervoor? OKOSA, onder wie se take tel „protecting consumers within the communications environment” wat hulle duidelik so goed doen dat mense nou amper glad nie meer kan bel nie...

Onthou dat dit OKOSA is wat die 08770-nommerreeks aan MWeb toegeken het maar blykbaar nie die tande het om die ander telekommunikasie-operateurs te dwing om oproepe na dié nommerreeks deur te skakel nie. Wat volgende? Bloemfontein word afgesny omdat Telkom besluit het hulle skakel nie meer oproepe daarheen deur nie? Verbruikers kan met reg wonder watse soort diens hulle van Helkom, Wou-daar-kom, en Selsie ontvang indien dié nie bereid is om hul oproepe deur te skakel na openbare telefoonnetwerknommers wat wettig in SA toegeken is, nie.

Hoe omseil ons die rotsrif genaamd OKASA (lees hier hoe dit dáár gaan)? Eintlik maklik. Al die voordele wat MWeb se diens bied kan in die VSA aangekoop word - teen laer koste en met 'n telefoonnommer (byvoorbeeld in Amerika) wat uit SA gebel kan word. Die enigste voordeel wat MWeb se plan het, is 'n plaaslike nommer - maar dit is 'n plaaslike nommer wat nie gebel kan word nie.


You will be assimilated

According to Business Day today

FOREIGN visitors entering SA will need to open up their cellphone and have its identity number recorded before they can use it here, if a proposed security measure finds its way into law.
Is this for real? Who will run the system and will there be a little processing centre at every border crossing with Swaziland? Rica (see below) rides again.


Big Brother Pretoria

According to Business Report of 2 June 2006, cellphone companies in South Africa might spend R300m (about $50m) to implement the Pretoria government's Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act (Rica). Not only must the telecommunications providers provide government access to phone calls if criminal activity is suspected, they must also now gather the personal data of some 20 or 30 million prepaid customers. In SA GSM simcards could up to now be bought almost anywhere you turn for R5 or so a shot. This has clearly been immensely useful to the great majority of people who simply want a convenient telephone service (which the government-owned - sorry, semi-privatised) monopoly fixed-line operator has never deemed a high priority. And - what do you know? - some criminals, perhaps even terrorists, have been using telephones! Something must be done.

Never mind the fact that 15m or so South Africans (teenagers, previously and presently very disadvantaged people etc.) do not have the identity documents that they will need to purchase or keep a simcard. Never mind that if the little lady from Letsitele has her handbag stolen at the Ultra City (because those criminals have not been thoughtful enough to call each other on a channel being monitored by the government) she will not be able to buy a cellphone and simcard to phone home because, you see, her ID document was also in the bag and she will wait many weeks for the Department of (Home) Affairs to issue a new one because they too are suddenly very vigilant against the threat of terrorists, foreigners and Zimbabwean political refugees.

What are the smart criminals doing, on the other hand? Parking their (consigliere's) behinds in the Internet café and chatting (encrypted) on Skype, Parlino or Wengo, one would presume. I hope the Zimbabwean dissidents are doing the same.