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Business Day (South Africa) via NewsEdge Corporation : LAST year anyone owning a small gadget designed to gain access to the internet was a rarity. Only about 2000 internet telephones, smart cellphones and internet-enabled Personal Digital Assistants were sold in SA.

Research company BMITechKnowledge predicts this is about to change and, by 2002 sales will grow, with 250000 devices sold a year.

The host of alternative devices will compete with PCs as the most common method for accessing the internet, says BMI-T director Brian Neilson.

Technology companies have long debated how much consumer interest there will be for gadgets designed to access the internet without the size and expense of a computer. If BMI-T is right sluggish demand is set to rocket.

We are just seeing the take-up. We are three years behind the US for Net-TV and screen phones, says Neilson.

By 2003 there will be 5,1million devices installed in SA capable of being connected to the internet. PCs are still a growing market, but within a couple of years they will be only slightly more common than other access devices.

The market for PCs in SA will continue to grow, he says. BMI-T expects sales to reach 250000 units in 2003. those figures prove accurate, SA will boast more gadgets than internet users, with not every internet-enabled device actually being used online.

BMI-T estimates there will be 3,5-million active internet users in SA by 2003.

The biggest potential growth lies in the education sector, said Neilson, particularly as universities and schools begin to include computer literacy in the curriculum.

In its newly-released report into internet use, BMI-T confirms a rapid increase in e-commerce activities. The internet and e-commerce are hot technologies which will burn some companies while making others blazingly successful, said Neilson. The trick was to spot the right niche at the right time.

Of the 1,4-million people already online, 10% to 31% shop for products or services, make reservations or carry out electronic banking. Even so, 75% of corporate websites are still just static information sites, with only 18% offering interactive sales and marketing activities. That is set for a dramatic shake-up as companies adapt their sites to let customers order goods and pay online.

BMI-T estimates that by 2002 online transactions in SA will be worth R47bn. Another R310m will be generated in facilitation fees such as stock broker commissions, while companies supplying the necessary infrastructure will enjoy sales worth R4,4bn.

<<Business Day (South Africa) -- 01-07-99>>

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