This week sees World Telecommunications Day (17 May), and it's a great opportunity for South Africans to celebrate the progress of the past few years, as well as to reflect on the many challenges that lie ahead.
This is according to Mark Taylor, MD of Nashua Mobile, who adds: “Market liberalisation, while not as fast or complete as the industry would have liked, is reshaping the South African telecom market and giving subscribers more choice.
"South Africa's mobile and wireless market is a vibrant and exciting one where the first effects of true competition are beginning to be felt, bringing fast and affordable Internet access within the reach of many South Africans for the first time," says Taylor.
A changing regulatory landscape is allowing new, non-traditional players to play in the market for voice and data services, driving more competition into the market. The introduction of consumer-friendly regulatory concepts such as mobile number portability has given telecom users more power and choice.
“Prices of telecom services are falling, and access to communications is changing life for the better for businesses and consumers,” says Taylor. The mobile data market in South Africa, in particular, is experiencing significant growth, thanks to the falling prices of high-speed cellular connectivity and the increasing penetration of 3G, HSDPA and GPRS-enabled phones and datacards into the market.
Aggressive marketing of Data services (like GPRS, 3G, HSDPA, etc) by all networks as well as affordable tariffs (including attractive data bundles and contract packages) have encouraged the growth of the market.
Cellular connectivity was expensive compared to wireless broadband or ADSL, but prices will continue to fall, as evidenced by MTN slashing its Data rates yet again in February and Vodacom responding with price cuts of its own. Future developments such as aggressive WiMax rollouts in metropolitan areas will drive the market by giving users even faster and more reliable wireless connections.
“More positive developments are on the horizon, thanks to a regulatory environment that also lays the foundation for developments such as mobile virtual Network operators (MVNOs), rural telecoms and private networks such as those created by councils or schools,” says Taylor.
“More competition will come from the companies licensed to provide telecom services in under-served and rural areas, and even from municipalities offering telecom services across their powerlines or via WiFi Internet access,” says Taylor. But some obstacles remain to increased Internet penetration and lower prices, including Telkom's control over most of South Africa's international bandwidth.
"Convergence will be the next important trend to watch in the South African market. Not only are voice and data services converging, but fixed-line and mobile services as well. The country now has convergence-friendly legislation in place that creates new opportunities for independent service providers in the Internet and cellular markets, as well as prompt incumbent operators to embrace converged business models."
Cellular and fixed-line operators will have fewer restrictions in the technology they may use to provide services than they did in the past. They can offer voice, data, and broadcast services using the technologies that are most suitable, be they fixed-line, cellular or wireless.