100% SA broadband by 2020 'not going to happen'

2014-03-28 14:11
South African mobile operators are eager to switch on a 4G network as soon as are allocated spectrum. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

South African mobile operators are eager to switch on a 4G network as soon as are allocated spectrum. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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Cape Town - South Africa will not get 100% mobile broadband coverage by 2020, but the reason has nothing to do with spectrum, says an industry insider.

"I am concerned that government will not achieve the 100% penetration target, but the reason for this is not related to the issue of freeing up LTE spectrum," Eckart Zollner, the head of Business Development at the Jasco Group told News24.

The company is a cross system integration specialist operating in Sub-Saharan Africa. Frequency spectrum is key to the rollout of Long Term Evolution, or LTE high networks, key to the country's mobile expansion.

In SA, the government has been driving a 100% coverage with broadband by 2020 through its National Development Plan.

Zollner, however, believes that poorer areas will remain on the outskirts of broadband rollout.

"I think  the reason they may not reach this target is due to the fact that to date they do not have a broadband strategy or policy to drive broadband up take in underserviced and impoverished areas. This makes up a large percentage of the South African population."

Mobile broadband

According to the Draft National Broadband Policy, the challenge of fourth generation mobile spectrum has hindered the development of broadband.

"Institutional challenges associated with spectrum allocation, together with delays in the migration of analogue terrestrial broadcasting to digital, have meant that service innovation, increased competition, potential job opportunities and tax revenues have not been realised," the document says.

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index, mobile broadband users will grow exponentially between 2014 and 2018, far eclipsing ADSL users.

"From 2013 to 2018, Cisco anticipates that mobile traffic growth will be double fixed traffic growth in South Africa and that there will be 40 million mobile users by 2018, up from 38 million in 2013," the company said.

Zollner insisted that specific programmes are required to ensure that broadband received the best possible expansion and adoption.

"To bring suitable and affordable broadband products to such areas requires strategy and programmes. This takes time and requires a concerted joint effort by government and industry."

Political leadership in SA has acknowledged the critical role that broadband can play in the economic development of the country and the national policy specifically pushes for high speed services in poorer areas.

Network infrastructure

"Deployment of high-speed wireless broadband services using 4G technologies is seen as crucial to delivering next-generation broadband services to South Africans and to overcoming the so- called 'digital divide' between connected urban citizens and those living in rural areas," the document says.

However, spectrum for these services has still not been allocated, with one of the main roadblocks being the inability or refusal of the national broadcaster to move toward digital terrestrial television.

Major cellphone operators have been investing in network infrastructure so that when spectrum is allocated, the transition to broadband can be seamlessly conducted.

"We have also been busy upgrading all of our existing base stations with new 3G equipment that is software upgradable to LTE. This means we'll be ready to have LTE up with flick of switch when we get spectrum," a Vodacom spokesperson told News24.

Despite this, the continued litigation over Mobile Termination Rates and other factors hinder the ability of the country to move toward universal broadband, said Zollner.

"But to date government and industry are increasingly in conflict rather than focusing on establishing mutually beneficial relationships to achieve certain goals."

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