SA MAY LOSE OUT ON WIRELESS BROADBAND BOON - DEREGULATION INDECISION THWARTING WIRELESS GROWTH

Internet

South Africa is lagging behind countries such as Botswana, Zambia and Kenya in its adoption of wireless broadband solutions. The respective regulators of these African countries have shown a more progressive attitude towards de-regulation, while South Africa is still trying to come to terms with defining regulations for value-added network service providers and other broadband users, as well as streamlining its telecommunications act. That's according to Nik Patel, business manager for the Middle East and Africa at Motorola's Government & Enterprise Mobility Sector (GEMS).

"After the initial euphoria surrounding the liberalisation of South Africa's telecommunications industry, many existing and prospective service providers are still unable to capitalise on the promises made, due to the complicated and frustrating process of defining the country's new telecommunications regulations.

"Suppliers and investors in telecommunications are shifting their focus to countries where the regulatory environment is more progressive, with the result that South African end users are prevented from enjoying the benefits of technologies that compete both in terms of price and performance with those of existing operators," Patel claims.

"Canopy, Motorola's new fixed wireless broadband solution, is a case in point. Botswana, Zambia and Kenya have joined the US and Europe in reaping the benefits of instant, high-speed connectivity that can provide everyone with access to the Internet, even if they live in remote or rural areas. These communities are starting to see Canopy's potential for establishing networks to serve e-learning, telemedicine, e-government, small to medium enterprises and to provide a wireless bridge for hotspots," he says.

"With the challenges faced in its healthcare and education sectors, South Africa stands to benefit enormously from solutions such as Canopy, but it is not able to embrace wireless technologies with the same fervour as its African counterparts, due to legislative and regulatory obstacles. Not only is the Telecommunications Act very restrictive, but new regulations that exploit the scope in the act for certain users to deploy their own networks are not forthcoming. This prevents citizens of the country from benefiting from broadband technologies such as Canopy."

Patel says that the lack of timely action by the regulator has also opened up the wireless market to grey marketers, who have taken advantage of the confusion which prevails and procured wireless broadband products in various frequency ranges.

"They have set these up in South Africa's major cities with such speed that the 5.7GHz frequency band - a band that has shown elsewhere to be extremely useful for broadband wireless technologies such as Canopy - is becoming increasingly proliferated with illegal equipment squatting all over it.

While ICASA has not taken any action against the grey marketers at this stage, once the regulations are finally passed, they will be faced with the colossal task of cleaning up the spectrum.

Patel adds: "In a country which has been hailed as an 'early-adopter' and 'tech-savvy', South Africans stand to lose out on the wireless broadband revolution. This will not only impact on the daily lives of citizens, it will also impact on the economy, so something has to be done to provide clarity where there is currently confusion and frustration.

"The potential for growth in the wireless broadband arena is significant. While we applaud the decision to liberalise the telecommunications sector, the delays in finalising regulations have to be addressed.

"Proper regulations will spur spectacular development of the sector. With wireless broadband technologies such as Canopy, many new services could be provided, including fast and affordable Internet access in both urban and rural areas and interactive e-learning for schools using voice, video and electronic whiteboarding. Hospitals and clinics could benefit from the live transmission of sonar images to specialists in urban centres, while broadband connectivity in rural areas could greatly stimulate SMME development, such as call centres.

"In order to compete globally, we have to embrace global technological and regulatory developments. Local communities and companies operating in South Africa should be able to harness the benefits of wireless broadband technology." Patel says.