First National Bank has entered the telecommunications arena with a pay-as-you-go ADSL offering and a Digital Phone Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service that can be used on a PC or cellphone. FNB Connect (http://www.fnbconnect.co.za/), a specialized digital services division within FNB, is behind these new services which are described as ‘a value-add to FNB clients’ rather than a fully fledged competitor to current ISP services.
FNB launched their Connect product range to staff towards the end of last year, and this served partly to iron out problems and introduce enhancements to the service before launching it to their clients.
The FNB Connect pay-as-you-go ADSL offering is essentially a bandwidth only service priced at a flat rate of 6.9 c per MB. There is a once-off account activation fee of R69.00, which includes a data voucher to the value of R69.00 (1 GB usage allowance). Once this initial 1 GB is used up, subscribers can purchase more data, worth a minimum of R20 to a maximum of R1000, which is then converted into a data bundle at R 0.069 per MB.
There is a 12 month bandwidth rollover on all bandwidth purchased, and the bandwidth is entirely unshaped. According to Luis Simoes, FNB Connect has their own IP Connect service through which it provisions ADSL bandwidth, and initially secured a capacity of 10 Mbps. This capacity will be upgraded as more subscribers start to use the service.
All FNB Connect subscribers are also given an email address. For this purpose FNB Connect has partnered with Google to supply email services.
On the voice side FNB Connect launched a soft phone offering, similar to Skype, providing clients with a VoIP, SMS and instant messaging service. This service comes in two flavours: ConnectChat and ConnectXtra.
ConnectChat provides users with a free 087 numbers and email address, and allows customers to use select mobile phones to operate this service. ConnectChat carries a once-off account activation fee of R49.00, which includes calls to the value of R49.00. After this amount has been used up subscribers can top up their account with any amount between R20.00 and R1 000.00 via the FNB Connect website.
ConnectXtra provides subscribers with the same advantages as the ConnectChat service, but adds free on-net calls and lower calls rates for the additional annual subscription fee of R249.00.
The price for both calls and SMSs is significantly lower on ConnectXtra than ConnectChat. While the price per SMS is 55c on ConnectChat, this price drops to 35c on the ConnectXtra service. This is also the case for voice calls where peak period calls to Telkom numbers are charged at 49c per minute (local and national) on ConnectXtra and 55c on ConnectChat. Peak time mobile calls cost R 1.59 and R 1.79 respectively.
Carmen Roux, CEO of FNB Connect, pointed out that users from all major networks, except Vodacom, can make calls to both their ConnectXtra and ConnectChat subscribers with 087 numbers. The cost for calls from a Telkom phone to a FNB Connect 087 number is around R 1.00 per minute.
FNB’s ConnectChat and ConnectXtra allows subscribers to make and receive voice calls from their mobile phones, something which can result in significant savings to users. This service however requires the FNB Connect Digital Phone software to run on the user’s mobile phone, currently only possible on a small range of Nokia phones and a few other high end handsets. The FNB Connect team is however working on a more comprehensive solution which will enable a far larger range of phones to be able to run the software needed for the service.
The FNC Connect products are currently only available to FNB clients, and there are no immediate plans to extend these offerings to a wider audience.