MyBroadband conference: Telkom scoops up two major awards

October 1st, 2014, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT


Telkom scooped up the two most prestigious awards at the recent 2014 MyBroadband conference held at Gallagher Estate, Midrand and stole the show with the announcement of its mobile broadband, LTE Avanced. The telco received the award for the best fixed line broadband provider and the best mobile broadband provider.

Rudolph Müller, MyBroadband; Jacques du Toit, CEO Vox Telecom;  Gian Visser, CEO, Afrihost and Jannie van Zyl, Vodacom head of innovation.

Rudolph Müller, MyBroadband; Jacques du Toit, CEO Vox Telecom;
Gian Visser, CEO, Afrihost and Jannie van Zyl, Vodacom head of innovation.

A special award was presented to Vodacom’s head of innovation, Jannie van Zyl for his overall contribution to broadband in South Africa. Afrihost CEO Gian Visser was declared the MyBroadband IT person of the year and honours also went to his company as the best internet service provider of 2014.  Rudolph Muller, the founder of MyBroadband, explained that the recipients of the awards were chosen by popular votes cast by users of the MyBroadband website.

Beside the two awards, Telkom stole the show with its announcement of LTE advanced (LTE –A). Dr Brian Armstrong, the company’s COO said that the company will begin the rollout of its LTE-A connectivity in more than 50 suburbs across South Africa by the end of 2014.

Considered to be the next evolution of high speed wireless connectivity, LTE-A can potentially offer speeds of up to 3 Gbps. Telkom has started its LTE-A journey and is currently upgrading its network to offer customers peak speeds of over 200 Mbps, with a view to developing its network to ultimately deliver LTE-A peak speeds of 3 Gbps. Armstrong said that LTE-A is an integral part of Telkom’s high speed broadband strategy. “We believe that, in the coming years, LTE-A will become the de facto mobile data standard. Our LTE-A platform runs on the 2,3 GHz spectrum, which is unique to Telkom. The spectrum allows us to offer efficient, high quality and stable LTE-A technology.The speeds offered on this technology are comparable to those offered over fibre connections, therefore offering an unparalleled wireless internet experience.” Telkom anticipates the initial rollout will be complete by March 2015. “The precise LTE-A product offerings and prices are still to be announced, but we can confirm we will offer bigger bundles and greater speeds for an enhanced wireless connectivity experience,” he said. The first area to get LTE-A  are  suburbs in  Gauteng, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape.

Lack of spectrum and the inability of government to resolve this issue was again the main reason why companies could not introduce LTE and LTE-A at the level the public demands. Telkom is in the fortunate position of having a legacy allocation of 60 MHz in the 2,3 GHz band which enabled it to launch  broadband with what some called “insane speeds”.

In an interview with Aki Anastasiou from Radio 702, Vodacom CEO  Shameel Joosub said that the company had recently carried out successful tests on LTE-A  and  had made major investments, as much as R9-billion, in upgrading its network. He that 10 000 base stations in the Vodacom Network  are 4G enabled and it will only take  a matter of days to  switch over to 4G.

Muller chaired the MyBroadband panel, steering van Zyl, Visser and Jacques duToit, CEO of Vox Telecom through a tough discussion. The LTE-A announcement was the first topic.  A little cynical, van Zyl said that if Vodacom had 6 MHz of unused spectrum lurking around it would have been right up there. Currently the company offers a limited 300 Mbps service but after spending R9-billion the company is just waiting for spectrum to offer LTE-A.

There was a brief discussion on voice over LTE. All agreed that it is more effective but at this stage the device echo system is not in place.  It would however be a quick  changeover to enable the 4G base stations to offer voice services.

Muller wanted to know from Visser what it was like to now have a big boss, after the announcement that MTN had taken a 50% stake in Afrihost. Visser said that the deal was not yet finalised – awaiting approval from the Competition Commission. He said that he did not believe it would have any impact as it was agreed to operate the companies separately. Maybe the lean entrepreneurial style of Afrihost will teach MTN a few tricks?

Vodacom’s takeover of Neotel also came under the spotlight. Other than that the process was awaiting approval from the Competition Commission and the regulator, it was confirmed that Neotel would continue to operate as a fixed line provider.   Maybe the other attraction was Neotel’s spectrum licences!

Vox Telecom was then questioned about it also seeking a new big daddy. Du Toit said that they had a number of options under consideration but  that he was at this time not able to make a statement. “Maybe towards the end of the year,”  he said.

The panel chairman at this point changed course and questioned the huge  interest and rollout of WiFi – whether the mobile operators are offloading data traffic from their conventional networks to WiFi?  Van Zyl said it is becoming an international practice but that the free to use model is not sustainable; operators are now investing in carrier grade equipment to offer WiFi and ultimately there has to be a payment model.

The panel spent some time talking about ADSL and the cost. Visser said that Afritel would like to see Telkom offering naked ADSL, in other  words stripping away the landline component bundled with a Telkom ADSL service. “Why should there be a landline, in the deal? I have not used the landline for years!”, he said. Maybe he had forgotten that the landline is cheaper to make calls and the voice quality is undoubtedly better than any mobile phone call. There is of course now mobile HD voice from MTN; and Vodacom says HD voice will soon be available on its network.

Will the panellists play in the fibre to the home (FTTH) space? All said yes when it becomes more available and the price points affordable. When the chairman asked the delegates who would like fibre, there was an overwhelming show of hands. When he asked who would pay R1500 – R2000 for a fibre connection, the hands dwindled to a few.

There is no doubt that fibre would be the best option, with LTE-A a good second choice. Armstrong made a good point: it is one thing having all the bandwidth and speed available;  there also needs to be content available to download, compelling content! ”It is something we are all working on,” he said.

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