Mobile broadband to generate ZAR 72 bn in South Africa

Responsible spectrum management and reduction of administrative barriers to network expansion will be key enablers of mobile broadband in South Africa, according to Analysys Mason’s latest findings published in a report for the GSMA. The GSMA commissioned Analysys Mason to look at the impact of mobile broadband on the South African economy. The report forecasts that mobile broadband and related industries will generate 1.8 percent of South Africa’s GDP (ZAR 72 bn) and as many as 28,000 jobs by 2015, highlighting the vital contribution of this sector to the country’s growth.

“Our report describes some of the innovative services that are already available using wireless data services. The challenge for policymakers, regulators and operators is to ensure that data access becomes faster and cheaper, and a critical part of this is responsible spectrum management,” explains Robert Schumann, Manager at Analysys Mason, who led the study.

High Speed Packet Access (HSPA) technology is leading the way in the South African broadband market, currently connecting 62 per cent of broadband subscribers. It also provides operators with a natural upgrade path to LTE, a 4G technology with higher performance, if the appropriate spectrum is made available. LTE deployments in internationally harmonised spectrum bands benefit from economies of scale which drive down equipment and handset costs, a phenomenon which has already been demonstrated with the worldwide success of GSM and UMTS technology over the last 20 years.

The global mobile industry favours international coordination of the 2.6 GHz spectrum band for the deployment of LTE. However in South Africa a legacy allocation of spectrum in this band to Sentech, which has remained dormant and unused for years, currently blocks ICASA from allocating this spectrum for mobile. In order to give South African consumers and businesses the most cost-effective access to broadband, and to help the South African government achieve its national broadband coverage targets, spectrum in the 2.6 GHz band should be re-allocated for the deployment of LTE as soon as possible.

As a result of the findings, at Africacom last month, the GSMA called on South African communications regulator ICASA, along with the country’s government, to act now and make key decisions on mobile spectrum allocation, taxation, planning permissions and access to microwave spectrum for backhaul.

“It is imperative that ICASA provides clarity over future spectrum release plans and offers assurances that spectrum awards will follow international best practice. Harmonised spectrum allocations must be made to bring South Africa in line with the rest of the world, and to maintain the momentum of HSPA and hasten the arrival of LTE,” said Ross Bateson, government and public policy adviser, GSMA.

The South African government has set national coverage targets of universal broadband access by 2019, with at least 15 percent household penetration. With South Africa’s relatively poor fixed line infrastructure, the role played by mobile broadband in meeting these targets, and driving social and economic advancement, will be significant.

“Twenty years ago, no one could have foreseen the magnitude of the rise of wireless communications. Today, we know that decisions about broadband – and particularly spectrum management – can have billions of Rands of impact, both for investors and for the economy as a whole,” concludes Schumann.
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