To baby boomers (people aged 54 to 70s), 2016 doesn’t seem all that long ago. To switched-on millennials (aged roughly 15 to 35), those three years have been an eternity. In the three years since then, a number of things have happened that will shape the future of communication, and that will make the fibre-enabled, 5G-powered technological generation gap even greater than it already is.
On New Year’s Day 2016, streaming entertainment service Netflix launched in South Africa. Suddenly, it really made a difference if you had a fibre-enabled broadband connection, as you could stream and watch movies and series on your mobile device, either via Netflix, or via YouTube, or via Multichoice’s swing-for-the-fences challenger Showmax.
Also in 2016, mobile service providers Vodacom and MTN were in court demanding that over-the-top services like WhatsApp be regulated in South Africa. WhatsApp, of course, lets users send messages and make voice or video calls using mobile data – and because those users only pay for the data they use, WhatsApp (and others like it) is much cheaper than SMS and cellular voice calls. If you’re using uncapped Wi-Fi, those costs become, in effect, zero. Vodacom and MTN lost their case, their voice and SMS revenue took a massive knock, and by late 2017 Vodacom was announcing that it was making more money from mobile data than from voice calls.
By 2018, a household package of uncapped 10Mbps fibre and Netflix was costing consumers less in a month than their DStv Premium subscription. In October, Jannie van Zyl, Executive Head: Innovation at Vodacom, was defiantly telling the 2018 MyBroadband Conference that WhatsApp calling was really not hurting Vodacom’s voice call revenues all that much. But by then, then battle had already been won and lost.
In South Africa and across the world, a generation has emerged that doesn’t use voice calls or SMSs to communicate, that doesn’t watch terrestrial or satellite television, and that doesn’t know what to do when the Wi-Fi goes down or the data runs out.
US-based network infrastructure provider CommScope recently surveyed more than 4,000 baby boomers and millennials in four major global cities – San Francisco, London, Hong Kong and São Paulo – about their communication habits. The digital shift was painfully clear.
Some 67% of millennials in the survey agreed or strongly agreed that social media is their major form of social communication, compared with only 35% of baby boomers. Millennials also said that they spend close to triple the number of hours per day (1.7) on social media, dating or messaging apps than baby boomers (0.6); and the same millennials reported spending more than double the hours per day (1.6) receiving social media messages – including texts, links, snaps, pictures, videos, etc. – than baby boomers (0.6).
Say what you like about data-driven messaging services requiring sophisticated smartphones to run (and, as you’d expect, Vodacom’s Van Zyl certainly did have a lot to say about exactly that) … as more and more, cheaper and cheaper smartphones enter the market, consumers – led by digital-native millennials – are shifting their communication habits to data.
This, of course, is great news for fibre providers. Speaking at the recent FTTX Council Africa Conference in Durban, Africa Analysis GM Dobek Pater said that the fibre market was seeing a marked migration towards secured communities in South Africa and in other African countries.
‘That presents an opportunity for fibre operators,’ he added. ‘They prefer to go into a safe, more concentrated and better defined residential environment at first, and then into office parks. That will also prompt other fibre operators who are targeting those, and that will lead to the faster growth of fibre infrastructure. ’This approach – fibre to the home first, fibre to the business second – challenges the popular perception of who’s using fibre-enabled high-speed internet, and why. Rather than a high-powered business exec using broadband access to run seamless Skype calls while a fleet of robots applies machine learning to process vast amounts of big data, shouldn’t that picture rather be of a young person relaxing at home, casting a Netflix show to the TV screen while chatting to their friend via WhatsApp on their phone about the Spotify playlist they’ve been streaming on their laptop?
Given the rapid changes in streaming entertainment and OTT messaging, the market trends and studies certainly seem to suggest so. They also suggest that, whatever those millennials are talking about, they’re more likely to be using pictures than words. A new study by TechSmith, surveying 4,500 office workers across six regions, found that more than 64% of millennials say they understand information faster when it’s communicated visually, with 58% adding that they remember information for longer if it has been communicated visually.
Those visual messages require data to transmit digitally. And that’s where fibre and 5G come into the picture.
5G technology, which provides fibre-like levels of data speed and capacity over a mobile network, is currently in its earliest stages in South Africa. But, like the technological leaps we took from 2016 to 2018, it’s quite likely that in three years’ time 5G will be far more – and far more ubiquitous – than merely an expensive, early-adapter technology.
‘I think that 5G is really going to change the way that consumers consume data,’ Simon Harvey, CEO at FibreCo Telecommunications, told the FTTX Council Africa Conference. ‘Taking away the enterprise for a moment, I do think that there are going to be different applications and different requirements for data, and data [demand] is going to grow significantly.’ Harvey expects to see many more 5G antennae and much more fibre deployment in the coming years, with the drive for both coming from consumers. And if Africa Analysis’s Dobek Pater is right, the first place you’ll see that is in residential estates.
5G is enabled by – and, to a large extent, carried by – fibre, so the two will go hand in hand. If you’re not sure how that works, ask a millennial to explain it. Just don’t be surprised if they send you a picture via WhatsApp.
So you’ve put up with the trenches being dug, and now there’s fibre in your estate, but – really – what’s the big deal? Actually, a lot. Fibre will change your life.
But remember, fibre is the backbone to your home network, and you are still dependent on wireless routers for coverage. So, if you are not receiving consistant signal throughout the home, especially if you have a big house on many levels, you may need to upgrade your wireless routers. MTN Supersonic now offers an easy online connect system, and an innovative product called Supersonic Smart Wi-Fi. This consists of multiple connecters that adapt to your space and lifestyle. It’s easy to set up, and you can control it through your smartphone.
supersonic now offers an easy online connect system, and an innovative product called Supersonic Smart Wi-Fi. This consists of multiple connecters that adapt to your space and lifestyle. It’s easy to set up, and you can control it through your smartphone.
Mark van Dijk