By Kathy Gibson, Satnac 2013, Stellenbosch – Have we gone full circle in respect of broadband? This is the question from Marius Mostert, chief technical officer at FibreCo Telecommunications, who says a conference like Satnac gives a good barometer of what’s important in the industry.
For instance, he says, in 2003 the conference was about solving the digital divide; later it recognised the role of IP and whether technology could deliver broadband services; then it asked about services over the networks; it asked about regulation as an enabler; looked at services enabling lifestyles; the power of social communications; and then enabling an all-communicating world.

“In 2013 we are back to broadband as a catalyst for digital inclusion – back where we were in 2003. If it was such a hot topic then why are we still talking about it?”
Mostert asks what the industry has actually achieved in the last 10 years.

From a technology perspective, he points out that it has evolved. Meanwhile there have been major moves in the Internet services space, moving from information sharing to content rich social and collaboration applications.

The devices have evolved from simple voice-only handsets to connected smart phones with media rich applications – devices that are no longer phones. In terms of access technology, we have moved from dial-up to higher speeds on mobile and fixed networks.

“We have the level of connectivity that we need: the technology has enabled that.”

On the transport level, this has evolved enormously, with both optical and Ethernet moving forward.

“So if you ask the question: have we advanced from a technology perspective? The answer is yes. The enabling technologies are there.”

But the other side of the broadband and internet penetration story shows that we have failed, he adds. It is also clear that there is a strong correlation between poor literacy and low broadband penetration.

“We need to have access to knowledge. This can equate to access to broadband and the Internet,” Mostert says.

However, he says, talking to delegates at Satnac could be a case of preaching to the converted. “We should be preaching to leadership, to string together the technology advances we have made to improve digital inclusion.”

He believes we should talk to leaders in industry, government or regulators. The key components of providing broadband to people goes beyond the platforms, Mostert explains, and the question is how we can do it in a cost effective way.

“First of all we need a sustainable business model. Creative initiatives are not a function of technology, but require collaboration.”

We are speaking the right language, he adds, but possibly don’t adequately understand the concept of collaboration.

“We need to look at the value chain, from the customer to the devices, to the core networks. A cable on its own cannot deliver connectivity. We need to combine components to provide what we need to provide.”
Broadband cannot be the responsibility of one entity guided by economic principles only. We have to get to the 85% of people who don’t have access, Mostert says.

“We are talking about common or shared infrastructure but we need the maturity to share properly. Industry leadership needs to embrace the principles of infrastructure sharing and collaboration.”

Mostert believes the industry needs to re-invent the balance between industry and competition; and stakeholders collaboration.

“We will only achieve what we need to achieve is we collaborate. This is the big difference between what we should be doing and what we have been doing.”

Political will cannot be under-estimated, he adds. “We need the right stakeholder and those include government and regulators as well as all the different industry partners.

“If we don’t look at it differently we will be back here talking about digital inclusion. We will have new, wonderful technologies but will still not have connected the unconnected.”