Q&A: Exactmobile’s CEO on Simfy Africa


South African Internet users will soon be able to listen to their favourite songs through Simfy Africa, an online music streaming service, which will launch in two weeks. IT News Africa caught up with Exactmobile’s CEO Davin Mole to find out more about the offering, the amount of data it will consume and future plans for expansion into more African nations.

A screenshot of South Africa artist Vusi Mahlasela's page on Simfy Africa (image: Simfy Africa)

* Why is a live streaming service necessary for the South Africa market?

Live streaming is the future of music as it combines the benefits of cloud technology, massive catalogues of music and incredible flexibility of access, sharing and discovering. Such services are rolling out in the developed world quickly and hence Simfy Africa ensures that South Africans have a fully legal and locally customized service to use, instead of having to sit and watch from the sidelines.

* Are there any plans to extend the service further into Africa?

Yes and we are engaged in discussions with key players in other African territories already.

* What is ExactMobile’s role in Simfy Africa?

EXactmobile identified the opportunity to bring streaming into SA many years ago and then 18 months ago, when we felt the timing was right from an SA perspective, we set out on a global quest to find the best partner to work with. After an in-depth search we identified Simfy as the best technology partner for us and so we entered into a suitable deal with them. Since then Exactmobile has worked closely with Simfy, customizing and tweaking the entire platform in preparation for a local launch. Going forward Exactmobile will operate the service in terms of all marketing, billing, customer support and business development.

* With services like Spotify and Last.fm, what sets Simfy Africa apart?

Spotify and other ‘on demand’ streaming providers are not legally available in South Africa. We at Simfy Africa, on the other hand, already have a large team of support agents on the ground today that can help customers in all the main SA languages and we understand the local environment when it comes to Internet access, costs, handset types and other practical issues.

Last.fm is not licensed for South Africa and hence any access to it from within SA is not strictly allowed. Also Last.fm is a ‘push’ radio service, whereas Simfy Africa is an ‘on demand’ service, which means that you can choose every single song you listen to individually. Also we have a feature called ‘Simfy radio’, which works in a similar way to Last.fm. So in short, Simfy Africa offer both a push radio service and an on-demand service.

* How does the mobile offline mode work?

On up to three mobile (including tablet) devices you can hit an ‘Offline’ button for some or all of your Playlists and then the device in question downloads the music to that device so you can then listen to those tracks without needing to be connected to the Internet. In a sense, the Offline mode turns any of your mobile devices into an “iPod”. There is no limit, other than the storage capacity of your devices, to how much music you can store Offline. Up to twice a year you can reset your designated mobile devices should they change.

* This is a bold step for South African music lovers and Internet users. What can they expect in the future?

We will be constantly adding new music, new features, new branded / celebrity playlists and no doubt a whole lot of things the users themselves will request and suggest.

* It has been opened for pre-registration. What has that uptake been like?

We have only been taking pre-registrations for just over 48 hours but today we will comfortably go through the 1,000 pre-registration mark in total, with the rate of registrations growing steadily.

* Why has it taken so long for a service of this kind to be tailor-made for South Africa?

In order to get something like this right, you need a world class back-end and an experienced local / front-end team and this is not an easy combination to achieve. On top of this, traditionally the rest of the world does not prioritize South Africa on a digital service level but because Exactmobile has focused for some time on getting this right, we have “brought the world into SA” quicker than the natural order of things. There are also other serious constraints such a licensing, bandwidth availability, computer and smartphone penetration that hitherto might have made the business model unattractive.

* How will other musicians be able to get their music on Simfy Africa for online streaming?

Get in touch with us (we have a dedicated team who handle all our licensing who can be contacted easily via music@simfyafrica.com) and we will assist.

* How much data will it consume when listening to songs online?

If you listen to songs online, without making use of the Offline feature, one hour of listening will consume about 85 Mb. Whilst at average rates of say R2 per Mb, this is R170 per hour, there are already many better value packages available where rates are closer to 20 cents per Mb, which would make the cost R17 per hour. We are confident that within the next year at the most, there will be rates available that will reduce the ‘Online’ listening costs to less than R10 per hour. What we anticipate people doing is using Wi-Fi connections to the fixed Internet to ‘load their devices’ with Offline tracks and to not overly consume on the mobile data side until they are on a suitable package. Finally we have a dedicated section in our ‘Info Hub’ on our website where we provide tips and suggestions on reducing the high data costs.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor