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How to overcome SA’s connectivity challenges

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The world of connectivity which surrounds South Africa is fraught with political charge, economic complexities and red tape longer than man can measure. There are challenges which trip it up and slow its expansion, and yet it is showing more momentum today than ever before.

“The delivery of broadband services has increased over the past five years, still there remain complexities which are impacting on delivery and performance,” says Brad Love, CEO, Network Platforms. “Mobile speeds have increased dramatically and yet we are still behind the rest of Africa. Mobile operators have been trying to obtain more wireless spectrum so they can deliver improved connectivity and capability and the recent move by ICASA may well see this situation change, but at what speed and cost to customer remains to be seen.”

In July 2016, ICASA, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa, revealed it was to issue spectrum licenses across 700MHz, 800MHZ and 2.6GHz, in spite of opposition from the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services.  The auction for the licenses is expected to take place in January 2017 with a reserve price of around R3 billion. And the benefit to South Africa? A boost for the roll-out of faster LTE broadband. However, it is likely to be slowed thanks to Telkom and government who claim it that spectrum policy is not yet finalised and only large organisations with deep pockets will be granted precious access.

Shifting from mobile to fixed, Fibre to the Home/Business (FTTH/B) has seen a rapid influx of new services and solutions over the past five years. It is faster, more reliable and of significantly higher quality than ADSL, but both come with their own challenges. There is a ground war as service providers fight for the fixed line, scrambling to implement services and grab that lucrative market for themselves.

“This battle is set to continue for a while and will benefit the consumer, but it will still be anything from five to ten years before most people in metropolitan areas will be able to enjoy FTTH services,” says Love. “FTTH almost always has a contention as there is no other way to achieve the prices on offer, but it does also mean that users have varied experiences. Also, the upload and download speeds tend to differ.”

For FTTB, the quality and connectivity are seen as the best for business and are available in most metropolitan areas already as they do not rely on saturation or client commitment for implementation. They also provide the same upload and download speeds and the contention ratio is 1:1 so the service is consistent.

“The issue with FTTB is that it can take a while before it is installed thanks to the administration approval processes,” says Love, “A few providers offer organisations wireless links until fibre has been implemented to help alleviate pressure while they wait. Wireless is a viable solution as it can be quickly deployed across either licensed or unlicensed services. Wireless is really more suited to clients who can’t have fixed line services or who need a strong back-up link.”

The state of connectivity in South Africa is undergoing an impressive and notable change. ICASA is challenging the spectrum quo, fibre providers are digging suburbs across the country into dusty lines of connectivity and wireless gives business the connection edge while they wait. There is more momentum in the market than ever before and as competitors increase, prices decrease and consumer and enterprise are about to benefit, now.