MWeb to tackle public Wi-Fi market

The Internet service provider will offer free, uncapped access to all consumers until the end of February 2014. By Duncan McLeod.

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MWeb plans to tackle the incumbents in the public Wi-Fi hotspot market in South Africa with an aggressively priced offering of its own.

The Internet service provider, which is owned by media group Naspers, plans to launch the product this weekend at Canal Walk, a large shopping mall near Cape Town. It plans to have deployed Wi-Fi to 150 venues around South Africa by March.

All consumers — not just MWeb customers — will be able to access the network free of charge until the end of February 2014. After that, MWeb uncapped users will continue to have free access and their usage of the Wi-Fi network will also be unlimited.

Capped MWeb customers, meanwhile, will get a 300MB/month allocation, though Nathier Kasu, GM for MWeb’s Wi-Fi business, tells TechCentral that the company hopes to use the Wi-Fi product to entice more of its capped customers to its uncapped broadband digital subscriber line offering.

Non-MWeb customers will be able to subscribe to the Wi-Fi product from March 2014, but the company isn’t ready to reveal pricing yet.

Kasu explains that MWeb will work with Naspers businesses as it takes the product to market. “This will be a useful asset to the e-commerce, content and Internet businesses in the group.”

WeChat, the instant messaging service owned by Chinese Internet sensation Tencent, will, for example, form a key component of the branding around the Wi-Fi service at launch. MyEdit, a new content aggregation service launched Naspers’s print media business, Media24, will also use the platform to market itself.

In time, video content plays, like MultiChoice’s DStv Catch Up streaming service, could follow.

As it invests in public Wi-Fi, MWeb will face competition from Telkom, which is ramping up its investment in public Wi-Fi, from AlwaysOn, which is linked to Internet Solutions, and from WirelessG, which is aligned to Vodacom.

Kasu says MWeb’s hotspots will allow customers to register their devices once with the network and then roam seamlessly between Wi-Fi zones without having to authenticate themselves each time. “Once connected, it’s like taking your home Wi-Fi network with you,” he says. MWeb is positioning the product as an alternative access medium to 3G and 4G networks, but also providing rich media content to users at low cost.

By March 2016, MWeb expects to have between 500 and 600 venues around the country live with Wi-Fi coverage.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

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