South Africa Launches First Afrikaans Language Mobile Network

South Africa Launches First Afrikaans Language Mobile Network

Bok Radio, a leading Afrikaans radio station, has launched BokSel, South Africa’s first Afrikaans-only mobile virtual network operator, but analysts are not convinced that language is enough of a differentiator for an MVNO to succeed in SA, ITWeb reported.

South Africa’s MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) market has seen a number of new service providers enter over the past two years, but subscriber growth has been slow, said Dobek Pater, managing director of Africa Analysis.

A mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) is a wireless communications service provider that does not own the network infrastructure it uses to provide service.

Some MVNOs in South Africa are more successful than others. FNB Connect, affiliated with First National Bank — one of South Africa’s “big four” banks — grew its base by 100 percent to around 200,000 over the past year. But in relation to the total mobile base, MVNOs remain very small, Pater told ITWeb.

Bok Radio is a private commercial Afrikaans station in  Cape Town with adult contemporary programming. BokSel founder Rennert van Rensburg said demand from Bok Radio listeners for a network in Afrikaans provided an opportunity.

About 7.2 million people speak Afrikaans as a native language, and another 8 million-to-15 million more speak it as a second language — mainly in South Africa and Namibia, according to Omniglot, an online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages.

“There is a gap in the market for customers who wish for a network that speaks their home language,” van Rensburg told ITWeb.

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South Africa has 11 official languages and all are guaranteed equal status, according to SouthAfrica.info. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial public life but only the fifth most spoken home language.

Afrikaans is the third largest home language in South Africa and around 70 percent of South Africans understand Afrikaans, according to van Rensburg.

All Afrikaans-speaking people in South Africa are the target customers, he said.

BokSel was developed through a partnership with mobile network enabler MVN-X, which is providing all the infrastructure and technical support.

AfrikaansMusicUnlimited lists Bok Radio as No. 1 of the three favorite online Afrikaans radio stations. Bok Radio has 40,253 likes on Facebook compared to 7,529 likes for Lekker FM and 3,769 for Overvaal Stereo 96.1 FM.

“All around the world there is a consumer trend towards serving customers in their mother tongue,” said Steve Bailey, MVN-X CEO and former Virgin Mobile South Africa boss in an ITWeb interview. “With Bok Radio having such a loyal and engaged audience, it presented an opportunity to tap into this trend by providing Afrikaans-speakers with a mobile network that serves them in their home language and that offers some great value-added services in Afrikaans.”

BokSel’s first customers will be the listeners of Bok Radio, which has a strong following in the Western Cape, but the network is open to any mobile users across the country.

Analysts are not convinced using language as a differentiating factor will be sufficient for an MVNO to succeed in South Africa.

Generally MVNOs seek to exploit a niche in the market that the bigger players may not be serving well, said George Kalebaila, IDC senior research manager for telecoms and media in Africa.

“The Afrikaans community might be sizable, the question will be if they can attract enough numbers to their network to be successful,” he said. “All the big networks offer language support in Afrikaans but there could be some gaps that BokSel may seek to exploit. If properly marketed with brand ambassadors and targeted sponsorship of cultural events, it might strike a chord within the target market.”

However, Pater is skeptical about how much market share BokSel can grab. MVNOs targeted at Hausa and Fulani communities in Nigeria didn’t perform well.

“Whilst an Afrikaans-language MVNO could theoretically address a market of over 10 million, I think customers are more concerned with the quality and value of services provided,” he said. “All the major MNOs offer services in various major languages spoken in South Africa.

“I don’t think it will gain much traction. It may hold an appeal with certain segments within the Afrikaans community, but not sufficient to prosper, in my view,” Pater added.
It all comes down to whether the MVNO can get enough subscribers to make the business work, Kalebaila said.

“The value proposition should go beyond language, because that could be easily replicated and addressed by the market leaders if they feel threatened by BokSel.”

Loyal and engaged listeners who trust the Bok Radio brand will be key, said Ovum senior analyst Richard Hurst. MVNOs’ success or failure depends largely on their brand pull and how much of a relationship they can establish with customers or potential customers.

“I think that while on the surface this MVNO appears to be based on language, the other hooks or pulls for new customers will revolve around identity and cultural affinity,” Hurst said. “This type of MVNO will be building its business case on other value-added services that are brought to the market.”