If South Africa is to truly move into being a global economy, issues such as limited or no connectivity need to be addressed. International research has shown that there is a direct correlation between pervasive broadband and fast-tracked economic growth, but in order for pervasive broadband to become a reality, the obstacles to building extensive networks must be addressed.
This is the view of Angus Hay, executive head: technology at Neotel, who says: “The idea of pervasive broadband supports the drive to effectively bridge the digital divide. It ensures broader network coverage to ensure that more citizens have access to faster Internet services, which in turn provides the platform for innovation and development for all citizens.”
The challenge in rolling out pervasive broadband networks however is the delay in return on investment.
“Building a network takes a massive investment, which is why it is natural that operators focus on where they will see a return in a shorter timeframe,” says Hay. “This investment is not just financial in nature – it’s the investment in getting environmental impact assessments done correctly, the processes that need to be followed in getting much sought-after spectrum and the battles fought in the industry for market share.”
However, unless the investment is made in providing much broader access to services, South Africa is not going to realise the true benefit of broadband.
Hay believes that speeding up the process of spectrum allocation for example will already provide the means to connect more rural areas.
“The allocation of spectrum is critical to operators – we simply cannot operate without it,” he says. “This, in conjunction with the creative use of wireless technologies where it is impossible to lay fibre will go a long way in connecting more communities.
“Speeding up the process of spectrum allocation will in turn speed up the process of increasing network coverage and thus competition in the marketplace. This is precisely what the South African market so sorely needs – more access, more competition and eventually more affordable connectivity.”
Recent industry discussions have also focused heavily on local loop unbundling as a means of stimulating competition.
“We understand the need and drive for local loop unbundling, but believe there are additional measures to stimulate competition that could sideline the need for this intervention,” says Hay. “The process of unbundling the local loop takes time and patience, as you are expecting an operator who has invested heavily in a network to open it up to their competitor and we believe the South African consumer is running out of both.”
He says alternate operators should focus on innovative ways of working around this issue.