SA urged to release broadband spectrum
Cape Town - African governments, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, have been urged to move forward in the allocation of mobile broadband spectrum, an international body has said.
"Across all of Sub-Saharan Africa, by releasing the 2.6GHz digital dividend band for mobile broadband, by 2016, this could create an additional $82bn per year in net GDP [gross domestic product] across the region," Peter Lyons GSMA director for spectrum policy in Africa and the Middle East told News24.
In the organisation's report, it found that the increase in GDP would result in $18bn in tax revenue across the region, leading to a potential reduction in poverty.
World Bank statistics show that for every 10% increase in mobile penetration, there is a corresponding 0.8% increase in GDP.
Mobile broadband is essential in Africa as there is a lack of fixed line infrastructure and Lyons said the allocation of spectrum would also have a direct impact on job creation.
"That translates to what we estimate to about 27 million new jobs between 2016 and 2025 which, of course, links to an 8.5% increase in GDP per capita, and that leads to a reduction in extreme poverty of about 40 million people."
Given the cost of mobile networks, as well as unplanned delays, the GSMA acknowledges that roll-out may be delayed several years, but says that the benefits are most compelling the quicker the spectrum is made available.
"What we actually see is that a lot of the benefits are diminished. There're still benefits obviously to releasing the spectrum by 2020, but the benefits that we see by 2016 are very compelling," said Lyons.
He said that politicians were not always up-to-speed with the latest research and needed a "reality check".
"It's [the research] compelling for policy makers and obviously policy makers are the main target for this research, but policy makers are not always on top of every report that ends up in their inbox, so it's much easier to get their attention through the press and media.
"There're policy makers and there're politicians. Politicians love to say things like 'South Africa will have the analogue digital transition by 2012'. They love to make these pronouncements - ambitious terms - but not necessarily backed up by reality."
Lyons said that often public pronouncements did not take into account all the steps needed to deliver services to the public and cited South Africa's habit of pushing back deadlines.
"Sometimes by putting it out there it creates the sense of lethargy and 'We publically made the announcement' and there's not really much thinking too well what are the legislative; political processes that have to be put in place to actually allow this happen.
"Now in South Africa particularly, with the new minister of communications there is more of a realisation that there's a lot of work that has to be done to make this happen. Obviously, 2012 has come and gone; now 2013 is also a question mark," he said.
The issue is also frustrating for operators because they will not invest in new technology unless they have guarantees that it is a viable business plan.
"I think it's a priority for the DOC [department of communications] and I think South Africa has a pretty good shot to reach the analogue to digital switchover before 2016.
"Our modelling and assumptions are based on 2014 - 2016 allocation of the spectrum," Lyons added.
In 2011, department of communications minister Roy Padayachie alluded to the complexities facing his department in the allocation of spectrum.
"Unfortunately in the South African landscape, this problem is overlaid with very complex issues of race and colour and the way that it dominates the landscape of the economy," said Padayachie.
Lyons slammed state-owned enterprises that seemed to be a roadblock in the roll-out of spectrum and said that politics must give way to how the additional spectrum could benefit citizens.
"I think the case around Africa is complex and there is some political dimension to the issue of spectrum release in South Africa.
"The role of some of the government-owned entities in sort of managing that spectrum. I think it's not going to be an easy road in South Africa because you can make the case on technical terms, you can make the case on economic terms. You can show all the graphs and benefits, but ultimately a lot of these decisions are going to be short-circuited by political considerations."
"South Africa is at a unique point in its history where there is a lot of additional complexities surrounding the telecoms sector," he added.
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