Kathy Gibson at AfricaCom, Cape Town – South Africa is leading the region in terms of smartphone penetration, and a broader segment of the population is starting to access mobile data services.

Shiletsi Makhofane, head of marketing and strategy at Ericsson South Africa, points out that the most popular apps currently being downloaded are mobile money.

“People are starting to transact actively on their phones,” he says. “This indicates that there is greater confidence in the technology, which is very positive.”

A recent consumer study undertaken by Ericsson has also indicated a growing interest in using smartphones for video-based applications and other high-end apps. “As an industry we should be asking ourselves why we are not exploiting that interest,” Makhofane adds.

Importantly, Makhofane believes the new generation of mobile users are demanding more from the networks, and are no longer satisfied with poor or patchy service.

“The generation that grew up with no data was happy with a dial-up modem. Then we got GPRS, which was better because it was mobile; then EDGE gave us better speed, which was improved with 3G and, of course, 4G.

“Looking forward, the consumers of today expect quality and speed to be a basic –and now they want to do more on the network. The operators need to decide if they are going to continue to sell them packets, or an experience.”

As consumers expect an experience that matches their specific needs, Makhofane says the network operators are going to have to change the way they do business. “They will have to change from selling me data to selling me an experience, a complete service that is delivered through the data network.”

To make this happen, he adds that there needs to be consumer demand coupled with a pioneering network operator willing to push the boundaries and change the way it does business.

Consumers may be demanding advanced services and experiences, Makhofane says, but a number of factors need to come together to make the dream a reality.

“There needs to be the right environment in terms of policies and regulations,” he says. “And this needs to talk to global world standardisation. Governments need to talk to each other when they develop policies, spectrum and regulations.

“The regulators need to ensure that whatever spectrum becomes is licensed, so that operators can ensure quality of service. This has to be done within an environment of global standards to that there is global interoperability, which translates to better value to end users.”

To get the apps and services into the market, pioneers or front-runners will have to come to the fore, he adds.

“At Ericsson we look at companies that are successful around the world and see what they have in common. What we’ve seen is there is needs to be a very strong visionary who can take a long term view of the market; the marketing needs to be customer-centric and of quality; there is a need to provide a superior network because, if the experience is there, consumers will use it.

“What we see is that the market is there, the demand is there – now we need to create the environment to make it happen. The consumers are proving that they are ready, they are demanding a lot in terms of performance and security, and there is a lot that the next generation won’t tolerate that the previous generation did.”