Filling the phone-line gap

Published on July 29, 2010 by in Technology

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By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day, 29 July

Telkom has an installed base of about 5-million residential copper telephone lines that can potentially support ADSL connectivity. But this represents a small portion of the population and not all these lines are of the quality required for ADSL, says Aingharan Kanagaratnam, head of network solutions at Ericsson.

“So there is a big gap that can be filled by mobile and wireless services.” He says there is currently a 110% penetration of cellular mobile connectivity with more mobile subscriptions than the total population, although this includes people with more than one connection.

“We estimate that 20% of mobile phones in the hands of users today are capable of mobile broadband.” This is an indication of the need to extend the reach of 3G broadband coverage across the country.

He says about one third of existing base stations currently have 3G capabilities, although the mobile operators are rolling out the service quickly. A limited factor the operators have to contend with is the lack of capacity on the transmission networks that link their base stations, for which they rely heavily on Telkom’s microwave infrastructure.

In two to three years time the operators will have their own microwave transmission networks and they have already started building these. It is too expensive to roll out fibre to every base station site, but when the national fibre infrastructure is more extensive it can be used to link some of them, says Kanagaratnam.

“Fibre will be confined to dense urban areas and long distance connectivity.” Improvement in the overall communication infrastructure will be gradual in line with the rollout of national, international and last mile infrastructure, says Kanagaratnam.

He says it will take two to three years for the various industry players to complete the roll-out of their national and metropolitan broadband fibre networks and for the multiple undersea cables to be completed to relieve the current overload of the infrastructure. The Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban national and metropolitan links are already progressing, but it will take longer to reach to urban areas, says Kanagaratnam.

He says it takes such a long time to roll out fibre infrastructure because of environmental and other issues that lengthen the process. Multiple parties are rolling out fibre infrastructure to get to achieve a competitive advantage.

But there is a lot of debate about the merits of sharing conduits in the ground, with each industry player laying its own fibre in these, instead of everyone digging up the roads. “Some 80% to 90% of time and cost is in this construction process,” he says.

Operators and municipalities are racing to get the metropolitan areas covered, because this is where the bulk of revenues can be generated. But the more players building overlapping infrastructure the more this will push up the price of connectivity to the end user.

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