Minister makes broadband promises

2014-09-02 14:32 - Duncan Alfreds, Fin24
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High speed mobile networks have the potential to drive economic growth. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)


Cape Town - The government has set a timetable for policy on mobile broadband which could resolve the inaction on driving internet access in the country.

"We expect to have a White Paper on Integrated ICT Policy by the end of this financial year, in March 2015. The Department, working with the regulator, Icasa, will seek to resolve spectrum shortage for network capacity in the short to media term," said Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele.

Cwele was speaking at the Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (Satnac) in Port Elizabeth on Monday.

"Over the past few months, we have met with government departments, government agencies and some private companies that have a role to play in the roll out of broadband," he added.

Mobile broadband in SA has been hamstrung by a lack of political will to make spectrum in the key 800MHz frequency band available.

Broadband policy deadline

Currently much of that spectrum is taken up by analogue television broadcasters who have been unable or unwilling to make concrete plans to begin digital terrestrial broadcasts.

A number of ministers who have been responsible for the portfolio have indicated that there should be movement toward mobile broadband, but have failed to deliver consequent action.

As far back as 2011 then-Communications Minister Dina Pule published policy on spectrum indicating that Icasa would licence spectrum in the key 800MHz band.

"With the use of the 800MHz, the goal of delivering mass market broadband comes at a lower cost, because broadband wireless coverage of a given area could be achieved with fewer base stations than a roll out of the same coverage at the 2 000MHz range," says the policy.

Former Minister of Communications Yunus Carrim went further during his tenure, saying that broadband was a national priority and setting a deadline.

"Obviously, we have to move with speed too on spectrum policy. We aim to finalise the Spectrum Policy by March 2014. This includes the issue of high-demand spectrum for broadband, which is linked to digital migration," said Minister Yunus Carrim at the Satnac in 2013.

"Government has prioritised broadband as the essential underpinning of economic and social activity. In fact, the implementation of this policy needs to take the form of a national project that we are calling South Africa Connect," said Carrim at the Broadband Policy South Africa Connect: Creating Opportunities, Ensuring Inclusion workshop in the same year.

Mobile data traffic

The lack of political action creates a problem for delivery, said international organisation, the GSM Association.

"The issue comes from the fact that there's been three ministers of communication. We're asking them with these World Bank studies to look at a long term issue, but they're focused on the political realities of this budget; this coming fiscal year," Peter Lyons, director of Public Policy Africa Middle East at the GSMA told Fin24 recently.

Cisco predicts that mobile data traffic will dwarf the growth in cable broadband connections.

"From 2013 to 2018, Cisco anticipates that mobile traffic growth will be double fixed traffic growth in South Africa and that there will be 40 million mobile users by 2018, up from 38 million in 2013," the company said.

Cwele linked broadband to economic growth, but his speech mirrored that of Carrim's from 2013.

"The benefits of universal and affordable broadband are now well understood," said both ministers and proceeded to list the benefits.

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