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Sunday Times STLive By MOYAGABO MAAKE, 2012-03-11

Vast number of mobile users presenting big opportunity


Image: JASON LEE REUTERS

South Africa has the third-largest number of mobile subscribers in Africa, yet business is not taking advantage, says Tim Bishop, founder and chief technology officer of Prezence Digital.

The GSM Association, which represents mobile operators worldwide, reports that South Africa holds 10% of the continent's 619.8 million mobile subscribers. This figure is expected to reach 735 million by the end of 2012. The industry contributes $56-billion to the regional economy, equivalent to 3.5% of total gross domestic product.

Bishop said price wars between operators across the continent, which saw prices plummeting 18% between 2010 and 2011, will boost subscriber numbers.

Yet South African marketers are focusing their strategies on desktop internet users.

"There are close to 32 million mobile internet-capable devices in South Africa, with more than 14 million actively using mobile web and data services," said Bishop. "In comparison, there are only six million desktop internet users. This already shows that mobile should hold enormous weight in strategic planning."

Bishop said businesses hoping to reach these users should be asking their marketing departments whether they have a mobile strategy and a mobile site, or if the mobile site was just an afterthought copied and pasted from their websites.

Eight in 10 consumers abandon a mobile site if the experience is not up to par, according to a survey by software services provider Limelight Networks.

Bishop uses the Ster-Kinekor cinema campaign as an example of how business can take advantage of the vast number of mobile users in the country.

"It was imperative the execution not only ensured customers were able to book their seats online, but also able to view trailers, select their seats ... all the way through to paying - right at their fingertips, wherever they were."

The emergence of the smartphone has also brought opportunities for more interactive and targeted mobile marketing strategies, through smartphone-specific tools such as mobile applications, quick response codes, geo-location services like TomTom and foursquare, and social media.