SA targets 80% mobile broadband coverage by 2019

Cape Town - South Africa aims to double its mobile broadband coverage to 80% of the population by 2019, the telecoms minister said on Tuesday, adding that 4G/LTE coverage stands at between 35% and 53%.

Siyabonga Cwele also told parliament that a new telecoms policy to be finalised in the next few months would reduce barriers to entry and increase growth in the industry.

The government plans to reduce the high cost of communications in Africa's most industrialised country that has hurt business development and which the World Bank considered to be among the highest in Africa.

"The new policy proposes radical supply side interventions to accelerate inclusive growth of the industry," Cwele said.

"It will reduce barriers to entry by moving away from monopolistic infrastructure based competition, to open access broadband networks," he said.

Cwele said a new spectrum policy will support open access networks and help benefit consumers by increasing choice and reducing Internet costs.

According to a World Bank report released in February, South Africans paid around $14.10 for one gigabyte of data, the fourth highest out of 17 African countries, compared to lowest-rated Cameroon, where the same bundle cost around $2.10.

Major telecoms firms in South Africa include the continent's top mobile phone operator MTN, Vodacom and unlisted Cell C. The five main firms in the wireless broadband market account for more than 70% of the market.

Cwele said state-owned South African Post Office (Sapo), which has been struggling to stay solvent, urgently required R3.7bn ($243m) to stabilise its operations.

"I am confident that the CEO will soon finalise a domestic syndicated loan facility towards the required funding," he said.

In April, Sapo's CEO Mark Barnes told Reuters in an interview that he expected the company to return to profit in 2018.

Workers at Sapo staged a two-day strike on Thursday and Friday demanding payment of annual increases dating back to 2014.

The workers have since suspended the industrial action and given the company more time to meet their demands.

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