South African telecommunications users can expect to benefit from more abundant local and international bandwidth over the next two to three years as new investments into metropolitan and undersea cable starts to bear fruit.
That's according to Mark Taylor, MD of Nashua Mobile, who says that South African telecommunications users and industry have much to celebrate on World Telecommunications Day this year (tomorrow, 17 May).
Be believes World Telecommunications Day gives South Africa's communications industry an ideal opportunity to celebrate the progress of the past few years, as well as to reflect on the many challenges that lie ahead. Prices of telecommunication services have fallen, and access to communications is changing life for the better for businesses and consumers.
Now, the new investments telecommunication players are currently making in laying fibre-optic cable in metropolitan areas and in building international undersea cables should translate into faster connectivity and more abundant bandwidth within the next three years.
"Operators are in investment mode at the moment, so I don't expect to see any dramatic price cuts in the broadband access market over the next two to three years," says Taylor. "However, operators are putting in infrastructure that will make new applications such as video-on-demand viable in South Africa for the first time."
Taylor warns that fixed-line operators will need to address exchange infrastructure to ensure that this part of the telecommunications network doesn't become a bottleneck after last-mile connectivity and international bandwidth problems are addressed.
"Although broadband penetration in South Africa remains low, the number of people connected to broadband Internet services will grow dramatically over the next few years," says Taylor. "Broadband technologies – wireless, mobile and ADSL – are all becoming more accessible to the mass-market and prices compare favourably to dial-up for even light Internet users."
Closed communities such as secure complexes, gated communities and office parks can be expected to invest more in setting up fibre-optic or Wi-Fi meshes to bring high-speed Internet services to their residents and tenants. This infrastructure will be able to support applications such as video-on-demand, Internet protocol (IP) telephony, and IP security.
"Many consumers and SMEs located in closed communities will start adopting broadband for the first time," says Taylor. "We can also expect to see social and economic factors drive the growth of broadband in South Africa: rising fuel prices and growing traffic, for example, are making work from home more and more attractive."
Affordable broadband could allow businesses to deploy new applications such as virtual call centres. In the near future, companies could create shared infrastructures in glasshouse environments that allow for hosted call centres or PABXs.
"Telephone calls could be routed from these environments to an employee (a contact centre agent, for example) working from home. Cellular data services can be expected to show dramatic growth in the years to come. MTN and Vodacom already have more data card users than Telkom has ADSL users, and are cellular data services are available in many parts of the country that are under serviced by Telkom," says Taylor.
He expects that the mobile data market will continue to grow as the network operators introduce newer and faster technologies such as High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA), the next evolution from HSDPA, and eventually, Super 3G, which will provide download speeds of up to 100Mb.
Many users also see the ability that mobile broadband gives them to be connected wherever they are as a major benefit. Many users and businesses may maintain broadband connections at home or in the office, as well as a data card for mobile broadband.