By Jennigay Coetzer – Business Day

The building of all the terrestrial telecommunication infrastructure that is going on to link to the undersea cables on the coast of South Africa should be completed by the end of 2013. Once this happens it will result in a 200-fold increase in data capacity, says Derek Wilcocks, CEO of Dimension Data for Middle East and Africa.

He says the final leg of the connectivity infrastructure that links consumers and businesses to the backbone networks will be largely served by mobile and wireless technologies. This will be assisted by the anticipated freeing up of spectrum with the migration from analogue to digital television.

“In South Africa, 75% to 80% of consumers and small businesses will connect to the fibre backbone networks using mobile and fixed wireless connections, or ADSL.” He says larger corporate organisations are more likely to opt for fibre connectivity, but their employees will still need to access their internal networks through mobile and wireless connections.

The next generation Long Term Evolution (LTE) mobile technology will play a dominant role in this regard, says Wilcocks. He says Wi-Fi hotspots will also continue to proliferate in high density business areas, shopping malls and business parks.

Howard Earley, chief operating officer at Plessey, says operators worldwide are rolling out LTE networks, and manufacturers are starting to produce LTE capable devices. He says the current manifestation of LTE provides about 30% higher speeds than 3G, and advanced versions will push this up by about another 25%.

The more spectrum mobile operators have access to the higher the speeds they can deliver, but there is a lot of uncertainty around spectrum allocation in SA, says Earley. “Operators cannot do much with small chunks of spectrum.”

He says the more data capacity that becomes available the more will be used, because bandwidth prices will drop. “We expect bandwidth prices to drop by 20% over the next two years, which will translate into users getting more for the same cost,” he says.

David Prosser, MD of Community, says the majority of cellphones in use today can be used to access the internet and download applications, even if they are not smartphones.
“If a cellphone has a camera, it probably has the power to access mobile applications.”

He says some 35-million of the total number of cellphones in use in South Africa are internet enabled and can connect to the 3G networks, and of these only 9-million are smartphones. Many of the 26-million non-smartphones in use do not connect to the internet in a very user friendly way, but software is available that can be received by these phones to simplify the process.

This is done by the user sending an SMS to a number, and receiving an application that connects them to an internet service, says Prosser. “This puts the internet into the hands of individuals who cannot afford a smartphone.”

In effect, the software enables the phone to act as a terminal that provides an interface to applications that are held on a server located in a service provider’s data centre, says Prosser. “Most of the processing is done in a data centre and not on the phone, which allows applications to be accessed at a fraction of the cost.”

Jacques Visser, YahClick product manager at Vox Telecom, says mobile technologies and satellite have significant roles to play in the local market. Vox is rolling out a broadband service in SA using a satellite owned by United Emirates  company Yahsat.

He says this particular satellite provides coverage to over 26 countries in south west Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is the first satellite to provide coverage to Africa that is based on the latest Ka technology, which is ideal for high speed broadband delivery, says Visser.

He says the service provides connectivity speeds up to 15 megabits per second and delivers an actual user experience of 70% of this. Jon Osler, MD for Africa at Intelsat, says there are currently 57 satellites in orbit that provide coverage over the African continent, and all of these are capable of supporting broadband communication.

“Intelsat alone has 23 satellites that provide capacity to Africa.” Osler says technology advances are allowing newer satellites to deliver significantly more capacity through the same air space at the same cost.

Jennigay Coetzer is a freelance business and technology journalist with 25 years experience, and she writes regularly for Business Day. She also runs media training and writing skills workshops, and is the author of A Perfect Press Release – or Not?, a guide to writing and distributing effective press releases, an electronic version of which can be downloaded free from her website: www.jennigay.co.za.

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