Significant infrastructure investment is necessary in South Africa in order to meet government’s national broadband targets of extending universal access to broadband services by 2030. At the heart of government’s broadband blueprint is universal access to high speed broadband services by 2030, which is widely expected to be the catalyst for growth and development.
Krishna Chetty, GM of Radio Planning and Quality at MTN South Africa, says a narrower definition of broadband penetration should comprise of a trimvirate of three variables, namely affordability, availability and accessibility.
Using the affordability criteria, the industry can ascertain household affordability of a basket of service using average household per capita income, and the consumer’s awareness of the benefits of available services. The key here is to ensure that services are relevant and add value to the lives of the consumer.
Accessibility determines the number of consumers who have access to quality network coverage that meets the quality of service (QoS) standards. This entails massive amount of investment to realise the quality levels. In particular, we need to connect fibre highways to rural areas so true high speed broadband can be realised; must be done under the PPP banner
Availability defines consumer’s access to the device ecosystem across the spectrum of network technologies such as 2G, 3G and LTE. It gauges consumer access to devices such as feature phones, smartphones and tablets that will enable them to access a range of services that are available in the market. Here we need to partner with device and chip set manufacturers to drive the cost down so as to lower the barrier to entry for rural consumers. Government subsidies aligned to this can also add traction to this initiative.
“Having pervasive 3G and LTE coverage means little if the majority of consumers do not have the platform to access the benefits that are brought about by these technologies. Therefore broadband penetration cannot be solely determined by the availability of these services, but should be defined by the number of people who have access to coverage, devices and the means to access these services,” says Chetty, adding that using this narrower definition to define broadband penetration would present a significantly lower level of broadband penetration.
Chetty says that the current broadband penetration presents an opportunity for the industry and its stakeholders, including government, to establish a public private partnership that will seek to bridge the digital divide inorganically by taking a proactive approach to investment.
“Operators and government should create an open work group that will pool resources, identify areas of investment and channel resources to areas where they are needed in order to bridge the digital divide and ensure that broadband services are available to all in line with government’s broadband targets. We need to have a high level investment plan as a country that will clearly spell out what needs to be done, and allocate responsibilities and timelines if we are to meet the broadband targets by 2030,” says Chetty.
“Government-driven capital expenditure in rural areas is a civic undertaking that will stimulate the local economies, create much-needed jobs and create a new ecosystem that is underpinned by availability of high speed broadband services,” he adds.
Chetty says MTN has made significant progress since the beginning of the year in deploying its fibre network. In June 2015, MTN connected a significant number of customers to its fibre to the home network (FTTH) network in Gauteng, and is currently trenching in more areas in the province.
MTN plans to connect over 1 000 homes in the Western Cape to its FTTH network by the end of this year, and the operator has invested R1,2-billion for network upgrades in Kwa-Zulu Natal which will fund the expansion of its FTTH network, with the first set of homes expected to go live at the end of October 2015 in La Lucia.
“We are now building for the future,” Chetty said. “Currently there is no industry other that the ICT sector collectively that invests approximately R30-billion per annum, if we are to build for the future we need to aggressively explore partnerships with the public and private sector so that we can positively contribute to building the economy and generating much-needed jobs.”