Kenya trumps SA's internet

Johannesburg - East Africa, and specifically Kenya, has leapfrogged South Africa in terms of consumer internet connectivity, say industry players.

According to Mark Schneider, chairperson of East African telecommunications group Wananchi, this is due to support from the Kenyan government, a liberal regulatory environment and private sector investment.

Wananchi and network infrastructure company Cisco have recently paved the way for a new "triple play" service in Kenya that combines broadband internet connectivity, television channels and voice communications delivered over high speed fibre-optic connections to consumers' homes.

Called Zuku, the service is priced at the equivalent of about R500 per month for an uncapped, 1Mbps internet connection with over 100 television channels included.

Analysts say that the Zuku product brings Kenya up to date with countries like Japan and Sweden, where fibre to the home is growing in use. While the actual connection speed of the Kenyan offering is less than that of the countries mentioned, fibre technology allows for virtually limitless incremental speed upgrades in the future.

Along with fibre connections, Wananchi also plans to provide wireless connectivity using WiMax technology in areas where fibre is not a viable option.

The Wananchi Group is currently the only triple play operator in East Africa and plans to roll out its new services in nine countries including Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Ethiopia, Sudan and Zambia.

Schneider is particularly critical of South Africa's telecommunications regulator Icasa. "We'd be there (South Africa) tomorrow if not for the regulator," he said.

He said South Africa's regulatory environment makes it difficult for players such as Wananchi to set up operations in the country and provide meaningful services.

Steven Ambrose, MD of independent research and consulting firm World Wide Worx Strategy, agrees fibre solutions are vital
for South Africa.

"Our copper lines are ageing and Telkom is focusing on wireless, which is easy but short-term thinking," he said.

"Fibre is the only way to keep up with northern hemisphere developments in terms of internet connectivity. In five years' time there will be services that will not work over slow broadband connections."

Ambrose conceded it is easier to establish such infrastructure in greenfield territories like Kenya than in South Africa, where a mature telecommunications industry already exists.

"The real issue in SA is not so much the regulator as all the red tape and vested interest of the incumbent operators," Ambrose said.

He hoped that one of South Africa's existing operators would realise there is a business case for fibre to the home in the country.

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