Neotel, WiMAX, price cuts - it's all finally happening in South Africa


Despite what the sceptics say, SA's telecoms landscape is finally changing for the better. If I told you in 2006 that in a year's time South Africans would have a true choice when it came to broadband services, you probably would have dismissed me as mad. If you had read that a competitor to Telkom would have rolled out services to consumers in 2007, you'd have raised an eyebrow. Similarly, you would have laughed at the idea of Telkom actually cutting DSL prices.

But the reality is this (and more) is finally happening. Driving through Rosebank and Sandton has become even trickier of late - not thanks to the Gautrain construction, but because of some rather intricate cabling being laid.

Neotel is behind the carving up of our streets, with work being completed on expanding the operator's metro fibre backbone (an ultra high speed connection). The cabling makes some interesting "stops": Internet Solutions in Rosebank, some of the major corporates who have head offices in the area, and other major network providers/operators.

A sophisticated truck digs the hole, approximately 10cm wide, and about a ruler's length to half a metre deep. Ducting and cabling is being installed - but some are questioning the shallow holes - especially if City Power were to try "fix" one of its electricity cables.

Sources also tell Moneyweb that Neotel is very busy behind the scenes with the planned launch of its retail products - this means access to you and I (If you're lucky enough to live in a major area, of course).

Also moving along rapidly is the rollout of WiMAX by literally everyone with a licence or test licence to do so. WiMAX is essentially a wireless broadband technology, to complement DSL.

A few months ago, MWEB launched a trial covering 1 000 homes/business in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The company last week crowed about rolling out a WiMAX network in Soweto within seven days. There are already 100 Soweto residents connected.

As part of its annual results presentation, Telkom (which has a commercial licence) announced that it would roll out a WiMAX "product suite". However, the fixed-line operator stresses that WiMAX is there to complement its DSL network.

At the time, Godfrey Ntoele, Telkom's (acting) chief sales and marketing officer said "customers who apply for DSL will be offered Do Broadband Wireless if they reside in an area which is not DSL enabled and that falls within the coverage area of a WiMax base station".

Telkom's WiMAX network covers Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The company says it will later be extended to Bloemfontein, Kimberley, Port Elizabeth, East London, Polokwane, Middelburg, Pietermaritzburg, Nelspruit, Welkom, and Empangeni. Vodacom recently confirmed it will start building its own WiMax network and launch commercial broadband and corporate services on it before the end of the year.

Neotel is also planning what it calls a "true broadband" WiMAX offering which the company says promises "high speeds and low latency". Moneyweb also understands that Altech has very ambitious WiMAX plans, but the company remains mum.

The pace of this WiMAX rollout is positive for consumers. As these networks become commercially available, they add to the multitude of ways consumers can obtain broadband access (think iBurst, 3G/HSDPA, DSL).

Another positive is the downward pressure on telecoms and broadband prices. Competition means cheaper access: it's that simple. Our mobile broadband rates now rank among the cheapest in the world. Totally unexpected DSL price cuts announced by Telkom in June have started to make DSL access affordable. The notion of a decent DSL bundle from Telkom (384kbps, 1GB cap) costing less than R200 would've been derided as "impossible" six months ago.

While chatting to an industry analyst earlier this year, he expressed his utter frustration that by-and-large, local reporting on the broadband market (and the ICT industry in general) tends to be very negative. "Try to tell positive stories," he pleaded.

Even the most ardent critic of Telkom/government/Icasa would not be able to ignore the positive movements over the past six months. Prices are down sharply, WiMAX will soon be (almost) everywhere and Neotel (like Gautrain) is real. This article is not filled with delusional optimism.  These moves are the start of something really brilliant.

(Source: My ADSL)