South Africa’s mobile operators face increased pressure to keep remote communities connected

Covid-19 and Facebook top search interests during lockdown as anxiety around health and education continues to rise
South Africa, Mobile network operators, 4G, Covid 19, Connectivity


Mobile operators throughout South Africa are experiencing increased traffic as the coronavirus pandemic drives users online for information. According to online search data from Upstream’s Zero-D, during March and May this year, coronavirus accounted for 15 per cent of all online searches nationwide. 

Interest in general health news also saw a dramatic increase, jumping from just 5.2 per cent between December 2019 and February 2020, to 28.6 per cent by May 2020, accounting for more than a quarter of all news content.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the top trending search query in South Africa was “How to get free data?” Since the outbreak, this has been joined in the rankings, alongside “What is coronavirus?” and “When are schools opening?” which now occupy the top two positions. This signals a very clear demand for free and discounted internet access during the pandemic, alongside a thirst for education.

Mobile network operators (MNOs) continue to play a critical role in keeping communities connected throughout South Africa. However, as the pandemic and associated lockdown measures are impacting people’s income and their ability to physically top-up their mobile data credit, pressure is mounting on the industry to provide free or discounted means of accessing basic online services.

Kostas Kastanis, deputy CEO at Upstream, has been a long-time advocate of the role that free data and services can play in helping emerging markets like South Africa bridge the digital divide. On the subject of the pandemic effect.
“For hundreds of millions of people globally, topping up their mobile phone is not something they can physically do or afford when they run out of credit. This means they’re missing out on connectivity with all of the social and economic opportunities that come with it. During the pandemic this has become more evident with the internet becoming an essential vehicle for accessing critical information on public health,” he said.

Zero-D, Upstream’s ad-funded free mobile internet platform, is helping bridge the digital divide in emerging markets by keeping users connected to the digital world even when they have run out of data.  Consumer portals such as Vodacom’s ConnectU, which is powered by Zero-D, have proved an invaluable tool for mobile users, especially during these trying times, keeping them connected and offering them free access to a range of essential services such as job boards, educational resources, news pages, and many other useful resources. In effect, offering a seamless out-of-data digital experience for the operator’s customers and a sustainability platform in one.

“Connecting mobile users across emerging markets is as much a mission as it is a business for us. With our solution not only do we empower millions of consumers to remain connected to digital information, a crucial need that would not have been afforded to them otherwise, but we also provide the mobile operator with a new, democratic, open for all, sustainability platform that at the same time can enhance their bottom line with reduced churn and increased revenues,” Kastanis added. 

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