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Vodacom advances towards becoming a ‘techco’

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Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub.
Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub.

Vodacom is evolving into a “techco” (technology company), according to CEO Shameel Joosub, commenting on its role and vision going forward.

Joosub made the comments in conversation with Digital Council Africa founder and CEO Juanita Clark, at the ongoing virtual FibreCONEXT2020 conference.

“We’ve done very well as a telco, but I think we are now moving from a telco to a techco,” he said, adding that he foresees changes in the forms of connectivity.

“I think we need to have a bigger play in fibre, for example; but connectivity as such – whether it’s underground, mobile, wireless or in the sky – we have to basically be able to provide those levels of connectivity.”

Joosub pointed to the partnership with Alphabet’s Loon to expand the Vodacom network in Mozambique as an example of the next level of connectivity.

“The important part is that it will take different forms of connectivity, and our role, as an enabler for the economy and economies in which we operate, is essentially to provide all forms of connectivity.”

The Vodacom CEO also noted the company’s evolution as a financial services player. “Today, we have 120 million customers across our footprint; 55 million (46%) of them are buying a financial service product from us. That’s almost a R20 billon business for us now, so it’s become quite material in terms of the revenue streams that we are achieving.”

In this context, Vodacom is moving from payments into what becomes a full lifestyle app, he said, noting the partnership with Alipay that will be launching in SA. “The whole of M-Pesa will evolve into a similar approach, and I think that’s a big part of the play for us.”

He continued to say the mobile operator is also utilising a lot of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. “I think we’re probably one of the most sophisticated telcos in the world in that respect.”

From an enterprise perspective, Vodacom is focusing on helping corporates digitise, he noted. “This is about helping small and medium companies, large corporates and government with that transition. We see that as our role going forward.”

“Our strategy is very much ‘build by your partner’,” he stated. “Building the core, which is the connectivity; ‘by’ is where you add more capabilities; and ‘partner’ simply means what you could’ve achieved on your own can become much larger through partnering with another capable supplier.”

He pointed out that Vodacom now has its own insurance and loyalty platforms, a financial services platform with M-Pesa and Alipay, as well as music, gaming, video and TV platforms.

“You can see it’s going into a very different direction; it’s not just about the connectivity but it’s also about the services that you can provide to your customers.”

On market opportunities in the fibre industry, Joosub told Clark he believes the telcos are under-indexing on their play in that space and need to do more.

There is also the societal problem that needs to be dealt with, he stated. “We need more fibre connectivity in South Africa. In Africa in general, fibre connectivity is still very low.

“I think there is an opportunity to connect a lot more homes. We have 16-and-a-half million homes in South Africa today, and we need to be able to take fibre connectivity to almost all those homes or to a large portion of those homes.

“There will always be a portion that is mobile, but the way I see it is there’ll be a portion that’s fixed, a portion that’s mobile; obviously 5G will give you more capability in that regard, and the rest will be 4G and so on.

“It’s not one or the other, it’s complementary. In time, it could also be through low-orbit satellites. There will be different forms of connectivity and I think our role is to provide our customers what they need.”

* ITWeb is the media partner of Digital Council Africa’s FibreCONEXT2020 conference.

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