Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  10 Nov 2010

INFOTECH: Pepkor Transactions Made Easy


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Data network operator Metacom has successfully rolled out a nationwide data network for Cape Town-based PEP, enabling Wide Area Network communication and online transaction processing for over 1,200 stores in some of South Africa’s most remote towns and villages.

Until recently, explains Pepkor IT Director Conrad Reinke, cash was the only tender type in PEP – but customers are now increasingly using debit and credit cards. “Standalone”  devices are very cumbersome and slow for our customers, so PEP embarked on a project to put integrated EFT Pinpads into all our stores. That meant we also needed a data network to process transactions online.”

PEP approached Metacom to create the physical infrastructure needed for a new national Wide Area Network. “GSM was the best choice for PEP. ADSL fixed-line connections aren’t available in many of the places we operate, and dedicated lines are very costly. Some of our small rural stores have only a few tills – we needed a cost-efficient network.”, says Reinke.

Working in partnership with eCentric switch for financial transaction processing, Metacom supplied GSM Ethernet routers to all PEP’s South African stores in mid-2010. These routers provide seamless communication between the stores, switching partner and corporate head office, through the use of an MPLS backbone and optimised last mile connectivity.

We installed high-gain antennas in a handful of stores that didn’t have a strong  enough cellular signal, and the system is working well everywhere now,” says Metacom Executive, Marius Visser. “Our most remote installation required 1,000km travel from the nearest main centre.”

We’re very happy with both the speed and the reliability of the network,” says Reinke. “For each transaction it typically takes about three to five seconds from the time the card is swiped to finalise the transaction, which we’re very happy with. It’s a huge improvement over the previous system.”

PEP’s Metacom network has replaced all its previous modems and telephone lines. “We’re bringing in all our trading and back office data including our end of day reports via those routers on the Metacom network and it’s proved extremely reliable,” says Reinke.

Not only do the speed and reliability of the Metacom infrastructure rival that of fixed-line networks, the cost is far lower. “It is definitely more cost-effective than any of the alternatives,” says Reinke.

We’ve built our network to ensure 99% uptime,” says Metacom’s Visser. “There’s a lot of redundancy built in all the way through, from multiple APN’s, dual SIM cards in our routers through to redundant radius and VPN servers. All steps are taken to ensure that there are no single points of failure, with complete redundant paths throughout the communication network. Our International Operations Centre constantly monitors the Wide Area Network and pro-actively resolves any downtime directly with the stores, typically before the customer even becomes aware of failure. The robust infrastructure allows for rapid response. As an example, a recent patch was downloaded and executed to every point of sale in 1200 stores in just 20 minutes.”

You have to have a little bit of guts to do it this way,” says Reinke. “But the Metacom GSM route has definitely worked out for us. We’re now putting the devices in our stores in Namibia, Botswana and Lesotho as well. Even in our most remote Namibian store on the Angolan border.”

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