SA operators eager to 'flick the switch' to 4G

2014-01-30 12:00
South African mobile operators are eager to switch on a 4G network as soon as are allocated spectrum. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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

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Cape Town - Mobile operators are gearing up to "flick the switch" as soon as the government grants spectrum for high speed broadband.

Vodacom and MTN have been investing in their network infrastructure so that the operators can act swiftly should the highly sought-after spectrum for true mobile broadband be awarded.

The operators have rolled out limited LTE (Long Term Evolution) services as a stepping stone to high speed broadband.

"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 a flick of switch when we get spectrum," a Vodacom spokesperson told News24.

Despite the roll-out of 4G service being hampered and delayed by, among others, the apparent reluctance of the public broadcaster to move to digital terrestrial television, the new Draft National Broadband Policy calls for accelerated access and delivery of high speed mobile networks.

Government intention

"Delays in the allocation of high-demand spectrum to roll out the next generation (4G) networks creates a severe constraint on operators' ability to meet demand and improve broadband uptake in the access networks," the document says.

It adds that continued delay could potentially rob the country of the innovation and tax revenue that such a network may facilitate.

"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 department of communications has signalled its intention to speed up the processes and the finalised policy is expected to be launched in March 2014 without spectrum allocation taking place later in the year.

"The rollout of broadband is integrally linked to the growth of a 21st century economy and ultimately to addressing one of our country’s pressing problems, the reduction of unemployment, especially amongst our youth," said Communications Minister Yunus Carrim at the South Africa Connect: Creating Opportunities, Ensuring Inclusion conference late in 2013.

International organisation the GSM Association criticised the fact that SA had had multiple ministers which resulted in the country not moving sooner in the allocation of spectrum, critical for broadband roll-out.

"The issue comes from the fact that there's been three ministers of communication. We're asking them with these World Bank studies to look at a long term issue, but they're focused on the political realities of this budget; this coming fiscal year," Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSM Association told News24.

Job opportunities

He said that more people who are active online would spike the economy and create job opportunities, a fact that the minister accepts.

Lyons, though, warned that many developing countries see the mobile ecosystem as a way to extract tax from the informal sector.

"To address the political reality you have to offer some kind of viable alternative and for many policymakers, they see the mobile sector as a proxy to tax the informal economy.

"Obviously this is a very short-sighted view, but there has to be some kind of alternative that you can present to them - not necessarily over the near term; maybe two to three years," Lyons said.

SA lags far behind first world nations like Japan where 2G was completely eliminated in 2011 and 4G grew to 25% in 2013.

- Follow Duncan on Twitter
Read more on:    gsma  |  vodacom  |  mobile  |  broadband

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