SA mobile data growth to surge 63% per year

2015-02-26 15:28 - Duncan Alfreds, Fin24
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SA faces a mobile data crunch over the delay in making spectrum available. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

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Cape Town - Mobile data is set for an 11 fold growth in South Africa as machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and smart devices become more mainstream in the country a new report has showed.

According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2014 - 2019, this data demand will fundamentally transform South African society.

"The remarkable uptake and adoption of mobile devices will be a key contributor to the country’s transformation, impacting industries like education, healthcare and government services therefore reaching all aspects of the society," said Vernon Thaver, chief technology officer at Cisco Systems South Africa.

The company said that current trends indicated that mobile data traffic would grow at an annual rate of 63%, eventually accounting for 32% of all data traffic by 2019, versus just 13% in 2014.

A large chuck of the data growth is expected to be video as consumers increasingly turn to rich media content online.

Sufficient spectrum

According to the Ericsson Mobility Report, video data traffic will grow at 45% per year to 2020 - that means that video consumption will grow 17 times larger in the next six years than in the previous six year period.

"Another prominent driver is that video is becoming an increasing part of online content, such as news, adverts, and social media. Video is increasingly shared via popular social sites, such as Twitter," the Ericsson report says.

The expected growth in mobile data, can only occur in an environment where there is sufficient spectrum for mobile operators to deliver enough capacity for a near exponential data demand.

The GSMA says that Vodacom in SA saw a data increase of 81.7% to 253MB per smartphone, and by 25.2% to 743MB on tablets in the last year alone.

Modern smartphones consume more data than traditional devices. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

However, in SA the regulator has yet to make a spectrum allocation, particularly in the critical 800MHz band earmarked as ideal for high speed 4G connections.

In its 2015 Lekgotla, the African National Congress called for faster action in SA on digital TV migration which has an international deadline of 2015.

"Lekgotla has directed the finalisation of the digital migration process to support broadband roll out. Government must move with the necessary speed to meet the deadline of 15 June 2015," said the ANC.

However, in his chaotic State of the Nation address, President Jacob Zuma spent little time explaining how the government was going to roll out mobile broadband to meet the goal of universal access by the end of the decade.

Data demand

In his maiden Budget speech, Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene allocated R1.1bn to the expansion of broadband connectivity.

But there were no details on the scope of the programme to connect government institutions and schools.

"It's surprising that only this much has been allocated and it's being shared between government and schools," Mark Walker, IDC Middle East, Africa & Turkey associate vice president for Sub-Saharan Africa told Fin24 of the announcement.

Even as data demand grows, cost will become a critical factor especially as cost-sensitive consumers adopt smartphones.

Social media applications consume the most data on smartphones. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Mobile are able to reduce cost to consumers only as much as they have excess spectrum. As operators are faced with an increasing shortage of spectrum, consumers may feel the impact on mobile data service.

"At some point we can imagine at these growth rates, you run out of tricks, if I can put it that way, because these are very technical engineering frequency optimisation types of things that we have to do," Steven Barnwell managing executive for Vodacom's operations in the KwaZulu Natal region recently told Fin24.

MTN has echoed that sentiment, saying that while the key spectrum currently occupied by terrestrial broadcasters like the SABC, it is necessary to grow the mobile ecosystem.

"I can say that it's [broadband spectrum] not necessarily having a significant impact but definitely, in due course, we will start having significant implications - not just from an LTE rollout point of view, but all other mobile services," said Sifiso Dabengwa MTN Group president and CEO.


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