Neotel Makes The Landline Mobile

Imagine if you could do away with your desk phone, but still be reachable on a landline number… And what if that landline number was mobile, so you don’t have to be tethered to one location.

What if you could make calls while mobile at a fraction of what cellphone (and Telkom) calls cost?

Neotel has changed the game. It quietly announced the NeoSmart service last week. In some ways it’s underselling how big a deal this is.

Put simply, NeoSmart works with a specific HTC smartphone (a variant of the Desire, which Netotel provides) and combines access to both Neotel’s CDMA network, and a normal GSM one (via a normal SIM card). One device, two completely separate networks – and not just networks, but network technologies. For once, the technology part isn’t important.

For a small business, it’s a no-brainer. Aside from the price of calls, which makes it instantly attractive, there’s data and SMSs bundled in as well (you can text and use data from Neotel’s normal fixed-mobile landline phones). The smartphones also have personal WiFi hotspots built in, which could be a useful backup internet connection (or primary one if you’re not online a lot). And there’s the ability to be mobile (within a given geographical area – you can’t use a “Joburg” phone in Cape Town, for example).

“But I run my business on my cellphone anyway,” you say. Unless you’re on a Cell C 99c per minute deal (or similar), you are paying too much for calls. Plus there’s still something about a business reachable on an 011-type number. It seems more legitimate, more serious.

The dual-network approach (you pop your existing SIM card into the phone) means you’re still reachable when outside Neotel’s coverage area, and you don’t need to carry more than one phone with you.

HTC Desire VC retail box>
HTC Desire VC retail box

The packages start at R399 (100 Neotel minutes, 1GB of data, 100 SMSs). R599 gets you 300 minutes, 3GB and 300 SMSs. Calls are somewhere between 34c and 46c per minute (peak, to landlines) and 97c per minute to mobile numbers (also peak). SMSs are 20c out-of-bundle, and data is 8c after you’ve used your bundle (all prices postpaid). There’s a prepaid option too – attractive, but with slightly higher call rates.

But this deal makes even more sense for bigger small businesses than one-man (or -woman) shows. For R49 per month per person, Neotel’s FreeCallZone allows you to create a group of users on NeoSmart where any calls between them are free (and unlimited). The mobile networks have begun launching these so-called closed-user groups, but the calls are heavily discounted (not free). This means you can quite easily throw out your out-dated switchboard and remove phones from desks in a small office environment.

Telkom, too, is slowly entering the convergence space. For R399 per month (on a 24-month contract), you get a business line (including installation and rental) with 150 landline minutes a month. You also get a mobile contract (no phone, you need to bring your own device) with R120 worth of airtime, 25 SMSs and 200MB of data per month. It’s a start, but it doesn’t begin to compare with the convenience of having both on the same phone, and being able to be mobile.

If you’re a seriously high volume user, and don’t care about having a landline number, obviously the Vodacom RED VIP (limitless calls, limitless SMSs and 1.5GB of data a month for R1 999 including a phone) and 8.ta’s Unlimited Voice (unlimited calls for R1 499 including a phone) make sense.

The lesson if you run or own a small or medium business: You’re more than likely paying too much every month for your phone services. Compare what’s out in the market. You could very easily find yourself halving your monthly bill, if not dropping it by far more. And in a tough economy, that will make a big difference.

*Hilton Tarrant contributes to ‘Broadband’, a column covering the ICT sector in South Africa.

Source: Neotel makes the landline mobile

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