South Africa’s communication landscape is a mixed grill

October 21st, 2019, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

Speakers at the 2019 MyBroadband conference expressed some wide-ranging views about the South African communications landscape ranging from 3 and 4G to 5, 6 and even 7G with fibre, views on fixed wireless and cost of #DataMustFall thrown in – indeed a mixture of subjects.

Lack of spectrum featured in all the presentations from mere references, to statements that it now has to be released quickly, to comparison with countries like Rwanda, and closer to home Lesotho and Swaziland where more spectrum is available than in South Africa. Some mild optimism came through with the notion that this time there is light at the end of the tunnel.

From left: Jan Vermeulen, Calvin Collet, Akhram Mohamed and Jannie van Zijl.

Godfrey Mota, CEO of MTN, a known critic of the way in which spectrum is being handled in South Africa, took on the director of ceremonies, Aki Anastasia, who made some hard-hitting remarks about the way spectrum issues have been dealt with by government. Mota said, “We should have some sympathy for how ICASA is currently dealing with new spectrum allocation. I believe that current initiatives will see spectrum being made available in the next few months”.  Some of the other speakers were more cautiously optimistic and said that the process is too slow and ICASA needs to speed it up!

Rashaad Sha of Liquid Telecom focused on the skills issues which currently surrounds the debate as part of the new buzz phrase hitting South Africa, the Fourth Industrial revolution (4IR). He said South Africa must focus on appropriate skills embracing the new fast-developing technologies. He shared insights on how his company is addressing the skills issue and invited delegates to visit https://21cskills.africa/ and join the initiative.

Prof. Brian Armstrong, chair of the Wits Digital Business School, drew some interesting comparisons between 3G and 5G. He said, “We can learn valuable lessons for 5G from the world’s experiences with 3G. When 3G was introduced it took five years before the right level of use-cases emerged and only then did 3G take off. I believe that this will be the case with 5G.”

Fuad Siddiqui of Bell Labs Consulting observed that 5G will become the central nerve system and not the connection layer. During the panel discussion, various aspects of 5G were on the table. Perhaps it is still at the market hype stage until serious implementation can be considered once frequencies are made available, hopefully early next year! The panel was chaired by Jan Vermeulen and participating were Janie van Zyl of Vodacom, Calvin Collet of Supersonic, and Akhram Mohamed of Huawei Consumer Business. Janie van Zyl, who has served on the Mybroadband panel for the past 14 years, said that while there is so much focus on 5G, there is much life left on 4G which will see a major surge once spectrum for broadband is released. Another interesting aspect during the discussion was the question of “will 5G take coexist with fibre”?  The panellist agreed that fibre will continue to play a major part with 5G more a complementary technology, at least for now. Jannie made the observation that until SpaceX’s quest to launch a massive number of satellites in low earth orbits become reality, base stations and fibre to connect them will remain.

As with every conference there is always something for some one to take away and the annual MyBroadband conference was no different.

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