Dimension Data SA chairman Andile Ngcaba, who is a big investor in SA’s telecommunications industry through his company Convergence Partners, expressed frustration on Monday at the slow pace of decision making over the allocation of spectrum, saying the delays could the country cost billions of rand.
He also criticised plans to auction radio frequency spectrum, saying it was not the best approach in a developing economy like SA. The Independent Communications Authority of SA is expected to auction off access to the crucial 2,6GHz and 3,5GHz bands later this year, possibly tying the 2,6GHz process to the 800MHz band, which is best suited for delivering broadband in rural areas.
Ngcaba made the comments in a panel discussion at Telkom’s Satnac conference in East London on the topic of how social communications could uplift the marginalised in society. The discussion was hosted by TechCentral editor Duncan McLeod and also featured Telkom Group CEO Nombulelo Moholi and Vox Telecom CEO Doug Reed as panellists.
Ngcaba said government needed to ensure spectrum was properly allocated and that underserviced areas were reached because, left to their own devices, service providers would focus only on the most lucrative parts of the country.
However, he said the industry needed to get together to craft a plan that it could present to government about how spectrum should be used to benefit everyone.
He said auctions were not the best way of distributing spectrum because they excluded smaller players, even if they had the knowledge and skills required to build networks. Referring to auctions for third-generation mobile spectrum in Europe — which fetched billions of euros — Ngcaba said SA should not follow this route.
But Moholi took exception to Ngcaba’s comments, arguing that auctions removed the problems associated with lobbying by operators, where those that lobbied most effectively won access to spectrum.
She proposed a hybrid model where those businesses that showed themselves to be best suited to rolling out infrastructure and using spectrum were granted licenses on condition they met stipulated requirements and timelines.
Moholi said spectrum that would be freed up when television broadcasters migrated from analogue to digital technology ought to be promptly and properly distributed. Government’s role, she said, was to expedite the process. Delays would mean lost revenue for operators.
Getting people in rural communities connected to the Internet was an imperative, particularly so that they were able to acquire the necessary skills that a highly connected future SA would demand, she added. It was time to stop talking about infrastructure plans and allocation and start “actually doing something”.
Moholi said wireless was very important to achieving universal connectivity. “We cannot talk about broadband as only a fixed service.”
However, she said fixed infrastructure provided the best broadband experience and the solution lay in a combination of wireless and fixed solutions, particularly as wireless infrastructure still required fixed infrastructure to support it. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
- Image credit: Aki Anastasiou