South Africa Connect – just another talk shop?

September 2nd, 2014, Published in Articles: EngineerIT


South Africa Connect is  still focussed on delivering broadband to all by 2020, except that the “how to achieve it” will only be finalised  and encased in a White Paper by March 2015, said the  Minister  of Telecommunication and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, delivering the opening address at SATNAC2014  on 1 September 2014. South Africa has just lost another year!

It is rumoured that he is at loggerheads with the Minister of Telecommunications, Faith Muthambi, who will control the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA), regulating the allocation and access to frequencies to deliver broadband for all South Africans.

On a more positive note the CEO of Telkom, Sipho Maseko said in his address that Telkom is well placed to meet the demand for broadband. “The quality and reach of telecommunications infrastructure in South Africa has improved dramatically over the last decade. In particular, there has been much improvement in the number of undersea cables that have landed on our shores and the national and regional data backhaul networks being built by Telkom and others.”

Telkom is at the heart of this telecommunications infrastructure with more than 147 000 km of fibre which is the largest footprint in South Africa and critical to support nationwide deployment.

It is estimated that 2% of South Africa’s area concentrates 50% of the population and 77% of national income. It is within the 2% where competition is at its most severe, and where several players are able to achieve an acceptable return on investment. “This leaves the burning question: What of the other 98%?” asked Maseko. “The first thing that one must take cognisance of is the passive infrastructure layer, in other words elements like ducts, poles and towers. A recent World Bank report estimates that this layer constitutes up to 80% of all investment needed. What this means is that infrastructure-based competition is quite simply not affordable. It is also a significant barrier to entry. We now have a situation where operators continue with infrastructure-based competition in the more lucrative areas. While this battle rages, local authorities, national government departments and even residents’ associations are either building, or thinking about building their own networks, often with much overlap and duplication. In a developing country, we cannot afford inefficiencies in capital deployment.”

Maseko continued: “If we are to achieve wider access to broadband, we are going to need new models of infrastructure supply. We need to conceptualise and implement models that will allow market players – in other words, government, operators and vendors – to collaborate in the provisioning of infrastructure, while still fully competing at the service layer.”

“As part of our turnaround we’ve given this matter much thought. It is our belief that Telkom is ideally positioned to be the “anchor” in a public-private partnership to realise the National Broadband Plan. Telkom would like to position itself as the ‘carrier of carriers’. What this means is that Telkom can and wants to – in collaboration with government and other operators – provide and manage a lean and efficient telecommunications infrastructure that will enable competitiveness in the services layer to the benefit of both consumers and operators.”

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