The Wi-Fi Forum of South Africa (the Forum) chairman Andile Ngcaba has called on telecommunications operators to embrace open access to their networks and stop holding South Africa back. By Gugu Lourie
Ngcaba, also a chairperson of global technology group Dimension Data Middle East and Africa, says operators restricting access to their networks is counter-productive and is holding South Africa back from achieving universal access and poverty-beating economic growth.
He previously called for the adoption of open access model in licensing high-demand spectrum in the so-called “digital dividend” and 2.6GHz bands to be able to provide broadband access to all South Africans.
Speaking at the the Forum’s mid-year general meeting that took place recently in Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, Ngcaba, who is also a majority shareholder of Convergence Partners, added that the forum has agreed to align its strategies with the FTTH Council Africa, Wireless Access Providers’ Association (WAPA) and Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA).
“We have yet to fully define engagement and partnership models, we’re pleased to have had dialogue with WAPA and the FTTH Council Africa, in particular, where it was agreed to align strategies, avoid divergent views, use common working groups and conduct joint research,” said Ngcaba.
Telkom – South Africa’s biggest fixed-line telephone group valued at R35 billion – is currently testing waters to be an open access operator.
Speaking at Southern African Telecommunications Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) in Hermanus, Telkom boss Sipho Maseko said the firm would open copper access at its 200 exchanges on a trial basis, thus effectively paving the way for a more open access approach, depending on the outcome of the trial.
“If we are to overcome the access deficit, and in light of the mobile revolution and the benefits this has engendered, South Africa needs to see wholesale access to the mobile local loop and active sharing of the radio access network (RAN).” said Maseko.
“This is an imperative and an important precursor for democratising broadband.”
Last week South Africa’s telecommunications watchdog – the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) – issued a discussion document on infrastructure sharing.
The high costs of deploying telecommunications networks have been the main deterrent of operators deploying networks to rural and sparsely populated areas, thus perpetuating the problem of underserviced to these areas.
In order to ensure that telecommunications infrastructure is deployed across the country and that the cost to communicate is significantly reduced, the costs associated with infrastructure deployment would need to be reduced.
“One way of significantly reducing the costs is through the sharing of existing infrastructure and future infrastructure deployments by the private and public sector stakeholders. The sharing of infrastructure is expected to drive down the capex and opex of the sharing parties,” says ICASA in a recently published Government Gazette.
It added the sharing of infrastructure is key in achieving South Africa’s broadband goals, promote effective competition, avoid duplication of investment in infrastructure, reduce cost of service, and realise universal access objectives.
The regulator said infrastructure sharing will benefit the consumer through improved quality of service, extension of geographic access to underserved areas, increased access in rural and urban areas, and possible reduction in the cost to communicate.
As part of its initiatives to facilitate access to infrastructure, ICASA is to also conduct a Regulatory Impact Assessment on possible wholesale open access regulation in South Africa.