South Africans who work from home, study online and try to keep their businesses alive rely on connectivity, without which it all ends.
Communications regulator Icasa is effectively snuffing out the concerted and, quite frankly, miraculous efforts of so many businesses, workers and students who have survived lockdown using nothing but cellular connectivity. It’s doing this by reclaiming temporarily assigned spectrum from the mobile networks at the end of November.
You could have predicted the outcry that has followed from the mobile networks. It’s also not difficult to imagine Business Leadership South Africa’s strong views on the subject. The Wireless Access Providers Association (Wapa), however, has no such interests. In fact, quite the opposite: Our members stand to gain when Icasa reclaims the spectrum.
Think about it. When Icasa takes back the bandwidth that has helped MTN South Africa alone double its data volume since the start of lockdown, networks are going to be so heavily congested that they will slow to a crawl.
Customers will jump ship left, right and centre, but to where? Our members, the wireless Internet service providers, had to meet the connectivity demands during Covid, which about doubled since the start of the lockdown, and they had to do so with the same networks they had before lockdown started. They never got a whole bunch of new spectrum from Icasa, even though they would have benefitted enormously from Wi-Fi 6E spectrum allocations, which Wapa is currently negotiating for. Our members had to struggle through, like so many South Africans trying to figure out how to simply get the job done.
The cellular networks did a good job keeping people going during lockdown. But what are people supposed to do now? Wireless Internet works because it’s robust, reliable, high speed and cost effective. So much so that even the people who suddenly get fibre in smaller towns and switch hoping for great speeds often switch back to wireless. And it offers proper broadband, unlike what you get from oversubscribed or congested cellular networks, or when you’re outside 4G/LTE coverage and get lumped with glacial 3G speeds.
When Icasa sucks back the spectrum it allocated to the mobile networks, effectively scuppering their quality of service and experience, wireless ISPs will be the only way a lot of people are going to be able to keep working, studying and running their businesses effectively. Our members stand to benefit from the poor decision-making at Icasa.
Yet even as we engage Icasa on a number of issues, including Wi-Fi 6E, so that we can help owner-operated Internet businesses improve the lives of ordinary South Africans in the communities where they live, wireless ISPs will pick up the slack and keep the digital lights on.
- Paul Colmer is an executive committee member at Wireless Access Providers Association, a not-for-profit trade association acting as a collective voice for the wireless industry