Mobile Connection Perfection.

My flight touched down.

I cleared customs (a miracle, as I understand it from a fellow passenger, considering I was filming with my FlipCam), gathered my baggage and made it to my hotel in one piece.

My next mission: to get connected.

After all, mobile is one of the absolute first concerns of a planned month abroad. And given the nature of my personality and The Saturn Return Project, I was itching to check in with my social media network as soon as humanly possible.

The second thing that caught my attention upon arrival (after the fact that customs asked me no other question than what flight I arrived on) was the abundance of Blackberries in my immediate vicinity. It seemed every hand held a Blackberry, and the familiar ping of received text messages and BBM’s sounded all around me.

I am amongst my people here.

As I’ve mentioned, internet penetration across Africa, including South Africa, sits at about 10%. But mobile penetration in South Africa clears 100%. So it goes without saying that the internet is most often accessed via mobile phones.

True to form, that has been my experience in days 1, 2 and 3. I did not even crack my laptop until I descended upon the amazing digs of TBWA\South Africa today. Though my hotel provides a wi-fi connection, there is an hourly fee to use it, so throughout the weekend, I was connected first via a Nokia and then a Nokia/Blackberry combination*. Between Opera Mini and Blackberry’s Facebook and Twitter apps, I haven’t missed a beat. Or should I say a tweet?

I have, however, gotten straight to the point.

Being used to opening my laptop and finding an instant and unlimited wireless connection most anywhere in the States, I have a habit of trolling the internet. I am easily distracted by digital shiny objects and I certainly don’t hurry.

Not so on a mobile phone. I get straight to the data I’m seeking or the person I want to connect with. No dilly-dallying around.

Between the tedium of tapping on a QWERTY keyboard (or better yet, the 1,2,3 tap on the Nokia) and the absence of distractions on a phone that would otherwise catch me on a laptop screen (photos, design and yes, advertising), accessing the internet exclusively via mobile certainly changes the browsing experience.

But a different browsing experience beats no browsing experience, a fact that is not lost here. Growing the data-accessing market is a leading priority and point of competition for South African mobile providers.

Vodacom South Africa recently completed a massive re-branding effort and names increasing its share of data customers among its top to-do’s. While some customers are impressed with the effort of the re-brand (completed in only six months by Vodacom partner, Draftfcb South Africa), others are still concerned about basic issues, such as coverage. When I asked for opinions on Vodacom's re-branding via Twitter, @RobForbesDJ responded,

“We don't care anymore. And their network is still dropping calls alarmingly often. Spend money where needed.”

I will be speaking with some of the folks at Vodacom later this week, and will share their thoughts, but suspect coverage is also among their top concerns. After all, what good is a data plan without the coverage to support it?

Which all goes back to the customer experience. Whether it is mobile data browsing or making calls, optimizing the way a consumer interacts with your brand and adding value to that experience is paramount.

And so I ask you, my South African peers: what is your mobile and/or internet access experience? Where do you source the internet most often (or do you)? How is the experience? And abroad, what would you ask an individual, brand or agency partner in South Africa when it comes to the mobile space?

Please use Interactive Blogging, or post short comments, questions and thoughts on Facebook or Twitter (with hashtag #asksaturnproject). Join the conversation!

*Thanks to my Fairy Godmother of connectivity, BizCommunity’s Simone Puterman and the sim connection of Vodacom.  


  1. Coverage isn't the issue with the major mobile networks (VC & MTN) but quality of the switches and consistency of the signal due to load factors. This is more pronounced in the very high volume areas where voice & data compete and both carry extreme load volumes at peak times.
    WiFi is big in the US and Europe (& other old world economies) because of the legacy infrastructure of cable and copper. Leading developing markets like SA don't have that infrastructure and have leapfrogged cable based connections with mobile.
    I will share some broadband capacity stats with you that shows just how dramatically the picture will change in the next 2 years, and how dramatically it has changed in the past 2.
    But yes, the browsing experience is very different on a mobile device - probably how the next billion users to access the internet will experience it.

  2. A key point, Justin; one I intended to note and inadvertently left out, in that South Africa will leapfrog the rest of the world in mobile connection. I propelled into the future in more ways than one upon landing in South Africa! And of course, I’m partial to the wi-fi/laptop experience because it is most familiar to me, but I am enjoying the stretch of new connectivity via the mobile experience. At a later point, once I have a better understanding of the experience, connectivity, etc. in South Africa, I’d like to dig in deeper to what this means for brands here (of those willing/ready to explore). If you aren’t serving up ads in the traditional (albeit traditional digital) ways, such as banners and pop-ups, what are the most innovative ways that brands (and agencies) are leveraging the online mobile market here? I look forward to taking a peek at those stats, as well. Thanks for chiming in and sharing your wisdom!