Small wireless providers in limbo in South Africa


Small wireless application providers still have to feel the direct benefits of the telecommunication industry's liberalisation, with frequency being the biggest question, says Wireless Application Providers' Association (WAPA) chairman Johann Botha.

“Most wireless application providers are in a state of limbo at the moment, as they have to determine their next step with regard to frequency, and especially whether or not to go for shared or dedicated spectrum,” he says.

Earlier this week, WAPA released its third annual membership survey, which shows strong consumer wireless subscriber growth for WAPA members, although this has not been at the expense of corporate interest.

Out of 44 members the association had then, only 23 completed the survey; however, it believes this gives an accurate snapshot of the state of the industry.

The survey's findings show its members have 12 841 fixed wireless subscribers, a rise of 57% over the previous year. This was split, with 62% of the subscribers being consumers and 38% being corporates.

However, the explosive subscriber growth had not translated into revenue growth, with that rising at a miniscule 4% to about R55 million.

Botha says there could be a number of factors that explain why the revenue numbers are not necessarily accurate, including that in most cases the survey was filled in by those who were in charge of consumer business at the companies. However, he points out that this also reflects a trend towards more cost-effective access for consumers.

Other findings include a 10% increase in the number of “high sites” to 860; a 40% increase in staff employed; the number of connected schools and other social responsibility projects jumped by 71% to 329; and the BEE component of the companies surveyed stood at 44% of the sample, a jump of 76% over the previous year.

The survey represents a tiny fragment of the industry, as WAPA estimates there are over 700 wireless providers operating in SA, the majority of which are not yet WAPA members. The association estimates the total number of fixed wireless subscribers to be in the order of 60 000.