Seen and heard at the Botswana liberalisation event: According to Susan Schorr, ITU:“If you could lay all the consultants in the world end to end, they would all point in different directions”. Susan Schorr, ITU

CEO of Botswana's incumbent telco BTC told the event:“One colleague said to me:’Have you come to your own funeral?…If I had, I said, I’d have one advantage. At least I’d know how many people will come to it.”

Consumer representative Dr Gaborone said that consumers wanted affordable, quality services that were sustainable. They wanted transparent information from operators on pricing and safety issues, particularly the mobile operators. And he believed that socially responsible companies should plough some of their profits back into the community. He caused a sharp intake of breath from the assembled worthies when he described the Amendment Bill that stripped the regulator, the BTA of some of its independence very bluntly:”It’s crap. The bill was made by people and can be changed by people. It’s not in the interest of competition. We want a regulator that is independent and respected. As consumers we need more competition so we benefit from affordable prices.”

Dr Angus Hay, CTO at Transtel, a 15% shareholder in the second national operator (SNO), has argued that Voice over IP (VOIP) is not actually a miracle technology that will vastly reduce the cost of basic telephony, as the future of VOIP is inherently tied to broadband, which is something SA is lacking at present. Speaking about the growth of broadband in SA, at the African Telecommunications Summit held last week at the Sandton Convention Centre, he says VOIP is simply a tool to help large companies reduce their overall telecoms costs and the infrastructure required to provide VOIP is broadband, so if you don't have a broadband line, you can't use VOIP.

“South Africa is expecting some kind of ‘big bang' come February, but I think the people hoping for this need to get a reality check,” said Hay. “What people don't realise is that apart from the network owned by SNO members Transtel and Eskom Telecoms, there isn't really a vast pool of under-utilised facilities available.”

Because the key cost for players is backbone and access facilities, voice deregulation will mean little for small business and residential consumers, and it will only be large corporates and broadband users that will benefit from VOIP, he said.

“Besides that, there is still a lot of regulatory uncertainty, the mobile operators have only been given an incentive to raise their margins, not to reduce prices, and Telkom has already reacted to the minister's announcement with a new, aggressive pricing regime.” Hay pointed to a Yankee Group report, which says high prices have prevented any development of residential broadband in SA.

“The liberalisation announcements, the forthcoming Convergence Bill and the launch of 3G services are all steps in the right direction, but SA definitely needs more in terms of true broadband development. We need government to come out with a broadband policy that will establish clear guidelines for infrastructure providers, as rolling out infrastructure is a costly and long-term business, so the providers need to be assured that it will be worth their while before they begin such a task.”