Vuma has always been a connectivity company, says Dietlof Mare CEO, Vuma  Our roots, quite literally, are in fibre. However, we’ve always had a clear mission: our job is to connect people.

In this age of COVID-19 remote working, we are even more conscious of that. Not just for consumers – who need to work, run their businesses and educate their children – but our staff too. Humans need each other. We are social creatures and we crave connections with others – even at socially-distanced lengths. How do we maintain our culture of collaboration and problem-solving when everyone who can, is working from home?

Luckily connectivity is an essential service, but more than that, it is simply essential. Everyone is wondering, what will the world look like in time?

I don’t believe this is the first major disruption we will see either. These disruptions will happen more often. We will have to manage our companies in this disrupted world and we will have to manage our people in an unprecedentedly distributed way.

The norm is changing, even the buzzword is changing. It’s already being called the neo norm. We already know offices will change and that remote working will become the norm for anyone who can. But the biggest thing, from a more macro perspective, is that this is a more disrupted world now.

We were very efficient on execution when COVID-19 hit. But the question I have is, will we be as good when the next challenge hits us? Of course, all good businesses have plans on their strategic roadmap, and when you need to swiftly implement them, your people know what to do. Yet these significant changes, and especially one like COVID-19 which requires so little contact, has a huge impact on teams, social interaction and your company’s culture.

We’re very aware of this, and not just because we’re a company built on connectivity.

Shifting from infrastructure to technology

Part of how we plan to evolve is to shift from being an infrastructure company to a technology company. We’re not entering the service layers, and so are not a threat to internet service providers (ISPs). That’s core to our business, but we will build out more useful features for our customers. Things like integrated billing systems with other service companies, to offer holistic packages.Page Break

This type of integrated packaging and billing is not easy to do, but we have to think innovatively to be ahead in a highly competitive market. By far, one of the most important missions for us is to connect the unconnected and provide unlimited access to information.

We have, together with our ISP partners, worked hard to connect and provide abundant access to as many people as possible to the internet, but the people who need it the most are often in the most difficult of circumstances. We’ve been exploring options to provide connectivity that we believe is a world-first for fibre-to-the-home (FTTH), using the pay-as-you-go model that has worked so well in the mobile sector.

In Mitchells Plain in the Western Cape, we’ve enabled ISPs to build a customised fibre option offering uncapped internet with a download speed of 20Mbps and upload of 10Mbps (20/10). We saw during the lockdown period far greater consumption, sometimes nearly double, as people used their connectivity to stay connected to work, other people, educational information and platforms and for entertainment.

Customers began telling their neighbours about the benefits of fibre, who then also got connected. The promoters of your service are often your own consumers. It’s great.

Connectivity and access have shifted from being nice to haves to being more of an everyday utility.

We have expanded this service to Vosloorus and parts of Soweto in Gauteng and are making sure, as we expand, that we get the technology right for the communities we serve. This is important as people rely on us to stay connected. We don’t want to give up on network quality or a positive customer experience as we expand. This is what makes us proud, when you’ve done something that meaningfully changes people’s lives.

When we launched our first FTTH connection in Parkhurst, we were proud when we were asked: “What is it? Or: “When can I get it?” People had either never heard of it or wanted it immediately.

Advances in 5G

I believe COVID-19 has fast tracked the “what is it” part. As much as the technical advances in 5G are amazing and will be part of the telecoms makeup of the world, there are just some things you can’t do through a mobile connection.

In fact, the mobile world is built on a fibre infrastructure. Fibre links the base stations to each other, and to the core of the network; and then over to other networks. What you really want then is for others to copy you on these types of initiatives. The more there are who provide connectivity into communities, the more connected everyone becomes.

Having worked in emerging markets, and in mobile for 23 years, I know how healthy and important competition is.

We want fibre connectivity and abundant access to be at the heart of communication for everyone. We’re a technology company that believes in creating opportunities for ordinary people to do extraordinary things. We want to connect people and communities so that they can expand their world, so the world too can meet and get to know them.

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