Vodacom and MTN launches rival Internet TV products in South Africa


MTN has unveiled InternetOnTV, a R999 living-room product that connects consumers to the Internet through a television set. The announcement comes just days after Vodacom took the wraps off a similar product of its own, the R749 WebBox.

MTN and Vodacom hope the offerings will extend Internet access to poorer South Africans. InternetOnTV and the WebBox are both targeted at consumers who don’t already have access to a computer or the Internet at home.

Both devices connect to television sets using standard RCA cables. However, the two devices are vastly different. MTN’s InternetOnTV has three separate components: a keyboard, a mouse, and a telephone that resembles a Telkom handset. The telephone is the hub of the device, housing the Sim card and connecting everything to the television.

Vodacom’s WebBox is far simpler, with the technology, including GPRS/Edge modem built into a keyboard, which connects to the TV. The cable on the MTN device is short, at 2m, shorter than the 3m on offer from Vodacom. MTN gains a little extra length because a keyboard cable extends its reach, but not by much.

InternetOnTV costs R999, almost R250 more than the WebBox. However, MTN says the device will be available from South African  retailer Jet stores across the country and consumers can pay off the device over six months, without incurring any interest. It also supports wireless broadband at speeds of up to 7.2Mbit/s and it can also make telephone calls.

The R999 price tag includes a R60 airtime voucher, which MTN says can be converted to a 75MB data bundle. Much like Vodacom’s WebBox, which comes with a 100MB data bundle that must be used within three months, the InternetOnTV can be loaded with airtime denominations that can then be converted to data bundles.

Interestingly, MTN has plans to introduce a new data bundle that may be aimed specifically at users of the device. The company will offer a 90-minute uncapped data bundle, a spin-off of its 24-hour uncapped service. It hasn’t revealed pricing for the planned bundle.

InternetOnTV runs Qualcomm’s operating system, Brew. Qualcomm relaunched the operating system, originally developed for devices connecting to CDMA  networks, intending to take it to mass-market devices. It is not yet clear whether Brew allows users to download and install other applications on the device. Vodacom’s WebBox runs on Android, but does not connect to the Android Market.

Like the WebBox, MTN’s device also uses Opera Mini as its Web browser. It also offers social media integration, Microsoft Office document support (not yet supported on the WebBox) and access to e-mail. It has a built-in media player that plays MP3, AAC, DivX, WMA and Mpeg-4 files.

MTN, like Vodacom, has missed the opportunity to be innovative with the data offering on the InternetOnTV. Consumers have to buy prepaid data bundles or use expensive ad hoc prepaid data.

MTN has slightly more innovative ideas around prepaid data, including timed access that can be purchased instead of only offering per-megabyte options.

However, as with Vodacom’s offer, MTN could have taken a leaf out of BlackBerry’s book by offering unlimited on-device browsing for a set monthly amount — although, to be fair, MTN could run into trouble doing that given the InternetOnTV device supports 3G, unlike the WebBox.

Still, the target market is one that would probably be keen to have access to cheap and “worry-free” browsing. Perhaps the planned 90-minute uncapped offering, if well priced, will encourage more users to take advantage of MTN’s offering.