Boiling the Ocean

News from the conference room: this is a series of blog posts in which blogging experts briefly review key Tech4Africa 2010 talks and panels from Day 1 and 2.

Day 1

During his talk “Boiling The Ocean: how a VoIP mobile business is changing the shape of the Mobile Industry” on how Internet Solutions has progressed since he was asked to start it up and take on the main Mobile Providers, Justin Spratt delved into just a few of the obstacles that he had to overcome in making that happen.

It all came about from them wanting to scratch the itch of mobile costs being too high in SA. With variable costs being around 5c per minute and charges around R2 they saw a clear gap to fill. Deciding to do this through VOIP over an enterprises existing WiFi network, they were able to come up with a very viable solution. In order to do this their requirements were to start with extremely talented people, strive for technical excellence (“Nobody does it better than us” – JS) and making sure that the leadership was given a long enough leash to be able to adapt quickly and effectively.

When it came to building the business, creating the core technology was easy. Their first version vastly outperformed the mobile operators. One of the biggest issues was the diversity of Mobile OS. With Blackberry not opening their API and Nokia having 3 OS versions – each not upgradable, this was no easy feat. [On a side not he made a prediction that Blackberry will be in serious decline in the next few years… This is because the customer is not the center of their development. Also that Android will soon overtake the iPhone due to its openness.] With Microsoft being years behind the game they have chosen to focus on writing software for Android, iPhone and Blackberry only.

When looking at moving the main routing through a central place they originally looked in India but soon moved to Israel because of the language barrier.

Deciding to run on a model where companies only pay for what they use and IS covers the setup cost they have managed to bring their prices down, starting at 50c per minute.

As Take-Aways Justin left us with 3 words: Usability, Adapt and Love. For him these were the most important ingredients in their success. Creating the customer at the center of their development was absolutely critical as well as being adaptable as situations and roll-outs differ. Love was needed to be inherent in the product and that “People want to see caring in your eyes”…

For more details, find Justin Spratt’s presentation slides here.

Roger Norton