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UniNet: David Jarvis

A wireless internet services provider takes on the big guns with a cost-effective service

Juliet Pitman



David Jarvis of UniNet

When Vinny Lingham, internet entrepreneur,started his company incuBeta, he seriously considered flying data disksovernight to the United States because doing so was cheaper, more reliable andquicker than sending them through virtual space. Things have certainly moved onsince then with the arrival of iBurst, 3G and similar services, but the truthis that South Africa still lags behind the rest of the world when it comes tofast, cost-effective, reliable internet connectivity. And this is particularlytrue of fixed line services where businesses and individuals alike are at themercy of Telkom’s copper wire infrastructure.

Enter UniNet, a Cape Town based start-upthat represents the only competition to Telkom when it comes to fixed lineinternet services. Since its inception, CEO David Jarvis and his team havepioneered cost effective broadband solutions to homes and businesses acrossSouthern Africa. In 1999 Jarvis teamed up with partners Mulweli Rebelo andMalenga Machel, both of whom invested capital in the company, to fill theobvious gap left by Telkom’s service.Their wireless internet service provider inCape Town comprises 32 outdoor radio repeatersproviding coverage to over 80% of the greater Cape Town region and 600 UniNet Wi-Fihotspots serving a population of around 2,8 million people. And in agroundbreaking project in Knysna they partnered with the local municipality tobring about Africa’s first completely Wi-Fi covered town. The project has beenidentified by the World Bank as a model of open access network best practiceand provides the municipality with cost effective communications across theregion, as well as low-cost broadband internet and voice services for the localcommunity.

So what gives this small wireless internetservice provider its edge? The answer lies somewhere between identifying andtargeting an obvious gap, having the gumption to take on the Telkom giant (andall the regulatory headaches that accompany such a move) and the ability totailor a solution to meet the unique needs of the local market. While mostother telcos on the African continent import their solutions from the developedworld, UniNet manufactures over 90% of the components needed for its network.This means that they own a much larger portion of the value chain and are ableto reduce costs for the equipment required. “We’re also able to customise a solutionfor local developing world requirements, which are different from developedworld requirements – both from a service and technology point of view – becausewe’re working in low income environments with unreliable power and security.”In addition, being small and nimble, UniNet is able to deploy new technologyfar more quickly than the bigger telcos.

And then of course there’s Telkom’s copperwire infrastructure, which is patchy at best. “Their dependence on copper wiregives us a significant advantage because there are so many areas where theydon’t have copper roll-out,” says Jarvis, citing an example, “We went to tenderon a Cape Town Library project two years ago. Of the approximately one hundredlibraries in question, the Telkom copper network for ADSL could only coverabout 30%. Sentech and iBurst were about the same but we could cover about 90of those 100.”

With bridging the digital divide high ongovernment’s list of social development imperatives, its small wonder thatUniNet has signed a R12 million deal with Under Serviced Area Licensee (USAL)ITel, to roll out a broadband network in the Eastern Cape. UniNet will be ableto build the network at a quarter of the cost of other solutions available inSouth Africa and will operate it jointly with ITel for the five-year contractperiod. “The project fits very comfortably with our company’s vision which isto look at redressing connectivity imbalances, particularly in the ruralareas,” concludes Jarvis.

Contact: +27 21 905 3090; 0861UNINET or

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.


25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton



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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.






Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect




Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.


“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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