“How can we pay much like we are going to the moon?” an industry player in the telecommunications sector asked, summing up concerns of the banking industry this week as speaker after speaker called on Botsnet to offer more bandwidth and reduce the cost of internet connectivity.
The banking sector is concerned that the BTC is not living up to its pledge to help the industry to transport data at competitive rates.
A representative stated that the BTC has invested in a ‘next generation’ network that is positioned to support the banking sector.
“We have realised that the banking sector needs reliable drivers (transporters). We offer networks that support mobile and internet banking. We have converged these services (referring to broadband (internet though Botsnet, be Mobile and BTC group) to help you deliver your banking requirements,” stated Solomon Raleru from BTC.
BTC currently does not offer direct mobile banking support except through third parties like mobile phone companies Orange and Mascom that partially use BTC backbone.
The two mobile phone operations provide support to First National Bank of Botswana (FNBB) and more recently Standard Chartered Botswana on their mobile banking products.
Raleru promised that they will enable the banking sector to link business platforms and streamline payment cycles adding that they have the necessary capability and technology to make banking job easier.
Although the banks welcomed BTC pledge, a Standard Chartered Botswana representative said it was vital that links are ‘real time’ while at the same time improving internet speed.
“There are some of the things we could have done in the past, but because of lack of backbone we could not do that. It is vital that links are real time like it is happening around the world,” said the Standard Chartered representative.
The banker was disappointed with the narrow bandwidth that BTC offers although its pricing is unrealistic citing other cities around the world where it was free to surf the internet at international airports.
“Can BTC come up with a guarantee of an uptime,” added the banker, saying it is painful to find a malfunctioning ATM machine when customers have stand in queues for banking services.
Managing Director of the Oseg group, Majakathata Pheko, who runs a call centre, observed that bandwidth is very expensive in the country and wondered whether prices will go down with the coming of Seacom.
Already, the local consortium, Abari Communications, is reported to have clinched a deal with Seacom that will cheapen the cost of internet.
He also wanted to know whether the Telcom companies have considered acquiring banks like Zain and MTN Mobile.
BTC responded that the ‘fear of going into banking might be there’ but it is the VANS or Value Added Network Service providers that might see an opportunity and provide banking services as value added.
Raleru gave the answer that they have negotiated prices down with the supplier and they have passed the decline in cost to the customer, adding that cost of internet have gone down by between 20-30 percent.
He said high prices might be caused by clients who negotiate prices directly with the suppliers. BTC has an option to buy internet services from Seacom through an investment on the West or East connection of the undersea cable.
BTC is also hopeful that with liberalisation in South Africa and Seacom, it will have the option of purchasing internet services from different sources and pass the benefits to consumers.
The officials from the group also explained that the other reason why Botswana internet is expensive is that the country is far from the internet backbone.
Raleru promised that they will help banks get it right despite the challenge of having banks with branches scattered around the country and pledged that they will help the banks have the right Disaster Recovery Centres (DRC).
He added that with fibre connectivity, BTC will improve security under the next generation Internet Protocol (IP) technology that has stood the test internationally.