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New SA broadband network: 4G, 5G and beyond

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Out of the ruins of the old iBurst, a new high-speed broadband network is about to be rolled out, with existing operators potentially joining its party, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

It was one of the great train smashes of Internet services in South Africa. Now it may just give rise to one of the great success stories.

When iBurst launched in this country more than a decade ago, it promised to change the face of wireless broadband with a new kind of connectivity technology. However, a technology that was once revolutionary was eventually derailed, as its development ended.

Connection speed stalled, service levels declined, and growth fell off the cliff. As a result, it surprised some when the holding company for iBurst, Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), was bought by convergence technology company Multisource last year.

However, it was clear that it was being bought not for its 60 000-strong subscriber base, but for its license to use radio frequency spectrum in the 1,8GHz and 2,6GHz bands – ideal for high-speed mobile broadband. It was also clear that the ownership of WBS, chaired by FirstRand founder Paul Harris, was focused on opening up this potential goldmine.

This week, Multisource removed the invisibility cloak from its iBurst plans. Harris announced a multi-billion Rand investment in a new high-speed national data network using LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) technology.

Current versions of LTE are still regarded as a form of 3G, while LTE-A is regarded as the minimum to describe a network as 4G. Because of the failure of the regulator, Icasa, to allocate additional spectrum in these bands, other operators have to “refarm” spectrum from inappropriate bands to offer a half-baked version of 4G.

This means, in effect, that WBS is likely to become the first entirely 4G data network in South Africa. Its aggressive strategy is also likely to be enhanced by WBS’s roaming agreements with other mobile networks. In other words, an MTN or Vodacom could partner with WBS to get access to full 4G. That also means they could well dip into their own pockets to assist WBS in building out its network.

“Our initial focus is fixed-mobile (like LTE-A enabled WiFi routers) and we will target customers in geographies where we have our own kit and do not need to roam on other networks,” said Michael Jordaan, former First National Bank CEO and a key investor in WBS, in an interview this week. However, he pointed to a company statement that acknowledged: “Roaming is standard practice in the industry with most telcos roaming on each other’s networks.”

He would not be drawn on specifics, saying that roaming agreements were confidential commercial agreements between operators. However “where appropriate, WBS will enter such arrangements.”

“It will take time to roll out a nationwide network,” he said. “We hope to get to 10 000 sites over five years, but will start in high-density geographic areas like Joburg and Cape Town. It means that the initial target market will be fixed-mobile rather than smartphones, as that would require either a national network or a roaming agreement.”

According to Harris, the strategy was partly a response to South Africa’s need for investment in productive capacity to tackle its economic challenges: “Nothing can be gained by sitting on the sidelines. WBS’s investment is a manifestation of its confidence in South Africa and its desire to contribute.”

WBS is looking into the long-term future as well, saying that the network will be enabled to use 5G when the technology is rolled out internationally in the next 5 years, and “will place South Africa amongst the leaders in the field”.

The company says a limited number of sites are already in operation and existing WBS customers will be converted to the new network, migrating from an obsolete technology to one that is ahead of the rest of the market.

National rollout will commence in the next few months.  According to a WBS statement, “Speed and performance will be comparable to fibre, with the advantages that it can be deployed without the cost of digging up suburban streets and time delay in eventually reaching all residential areas.

“Once the network is rolled out WBS will be able to offer mobile broadband on smartphones, tablets and other devices supporting the Internet of Things. In the foreseeable future the majority of voice calls will be carried on data networks, thereby effectively providing consumers with a combined data and voice offering.”

WBS says it has the advantage of not having to invest in legacy networks such as 2G and 3G, and will consequently deploy cutting edge technology referred to as LTE-A PRO or 4.5G. The new network will be deployed on some of WBS’s own 400 sites and sites leased from tower companies and other telecommunications providers.

Jordaan also fired a warning shot at existing operators’ dogged emphasis on traditional voice and their inability to embrace the Over-The-Top apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.

“We think that voice is fast becoming just another data-enabled app and we are not planning on offering traditional voice; rather VoLTE (voice over LTE), VoIP, WhatsApp, Skype. In essence, we are a competitor to fibre and ADSL.”

Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Load-shedding leads
local searches

South Africans are searching in the dark, according to the latest Google Search trends.

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With more 1 million search queries generated in the space of 76 hours, load-shedding was by far the top trending search on Google South Africa this week.

Valentine’s Day came a distant second.

After news emerged last Sunday of the impending stage 3 load shedding, South Africans had generated more than 1-million load-shedding search queries by the time Tuesday came around:

  • “Loadshedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Eskom load shedding” – generated more than 100k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding Cape Town” – generated more than 50k searches on Sunday
  • “Load shedding schedule” – generated more than 400k on Monday
  • “Load shedding Johannesburg” – generated more than 20k searches on Monday
  • Load shedding schedule” generated more than 200k search queries on Tuesday

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, South Africans generated close to 300k search queries related to the romantic festival, including searches for quotes and gift ideas:

  • “Valentines Day” generated more than 100k search queries on Thursday
  • “Happy Valentines Day Images” and “Valentines Day Images” generated more than 10k search queries each on Thursday, with “Happy Valentines Day 2019” generating more than 20k search queries on Wednesday
  • “Valentines Day Specials 2019” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Love quotes” generated more than 5k search queries on Thursday
  • “Valentines Day quotes” generated more than 100k search queries and “Valentine messages” generated more than 50 000 search queries on Wednesday

Search trends information is gleaned from data collated by Google based on what South Africans have been searching for and asking Google. Google processes more than 40 000 search queries every second. This translates to more than a billion searches per day and 1.2 trillion searches per year worldwide. Live Google search trends data is available at https://www.google.co.za/trends/hottrends#pn=p40

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Showmax invites
student films

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Thanks to the growing popularity of video-on-demand services, there’s a new opportunity to help kickstart the careers of local filmmakers.

Numerous Hollywood blockbusters (District 9Tomb Raider 2018, and The Avengers: Age of Ultron to name a few) have featured substantial shoots in Johannesburg and Cape Town. While providing great opportunities for SA’s production talent, aspiring writers and directors don’t get the same benefit.

So where can local creatives showcase their work? Broadcast TV isn’t a natural home for unknown short films, and while self-publishing platforms are readily available hosting options, it’s tough to get noticed and get traffic when competing with videos from across the planet.

But with the emergence of video-on-demand services into the mainstream, there’s now a solution. The African film school AFDA has teamed up with the streaming service Showmax to give local talent a much larger platform than ever before. From 18 February, eighteen of the best recent short films made by AFDA students from their Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth campuses will be live on Showmax. Drama, documentary, fantasy, and animation are all represented, in pieces running from under eight minutes to almost half-an-hour long. The full list of movies is included below.

Teresa Passchier, CEO of AFDA, said: “AFDA, Africa’s number-one school for the Creative Economy, is proud to kickstart this exciting and meaningful journey with Showmax and AFDA students, ensuring emerging young African filmmakers’ voices are heard and given a platform. It’s ground-breaking to share young, local, culturally relevant content on the same platform as Hollywood blockbusters. I am certain that this unique initiative will serve to boost and develop the African film industry and the careers of many young South African and African students alike.”

Included in the short films coming to Showmax are the award winners Junior and O-PunchaJunior, directed by Bert Dijkstra, picked up the Audience Award in the Made in South Africa Competition at the shnit Worldwide Shortfilmfestival Awards 2017. O-Puncha, directed by Adam Hansen, won two awards at the 5th annual Eldorado Film Festival: Best Student Made Short, and Best Editing – Alexander La Cock.

Another celebrated film is Sicela Amanzi directed by Mlu Godola, which talks to the subject of water shortage. The film’s heroine Zoleka is a mild-mannered young woman forced to go to extreme lengths when a small community’s only source of water unexpectedly collapses. The power of films like this is they shine a light on critical topical issues in new ways.

Speaking about working with the film school, Candice Fangueiro, Head of Content for Showmax, said: “There’s immense depth of filmmaking talent in Africa and it’s a privilege to be able to give that talent a home and a platform. Showmax is becoming part of the fabric of film and TV production in Africa, and importantly we’re doing this as a partner rather than just as a consumer. This is a key competitive advantage of being local and something we aim to continue to work on.”

AFDA is an Academy Award-winning institution, founded in 1994, and the first and only African film school to win an Oscar – for the Best Foreign Student film in 2006, the postgraduate film Elalini, directed by Tristan Holmes.

The full list of AFDA short films coming to Showmax is as follows:

Film titleDirectorGenre
Lullaby from the CryptKeenan Lott & Raven DavidsAnimation
Ko Ga CherenyaneSibonokuhle MyatazaDocumentary
IzilwaneKyllian RouxDrama
MallemeuleJaco Van BoschDrama
Canal StreetBrodie MuirheadDrama
On the FenceWarrick BewsDrama
The Righteous FewLindo LangaDrama
Hlogoma PeakLuke AhrensDrama
Frozen FlameCameron HeathmanAnimation
WolfBrett van DortFantasy
The Walk HomeSisanda DyantyiDrama
BearWesley RoodtDrama
JuniorBert DijkstraDrama
O-PunchaAdam HansenDrama
UmngenoSiphosethu NdungeDrama
DoreenLuvuyo Equiano NyawoseDrama
ForeverLindo LangaMusical
Sicela AmanziMlu GodolaDrama

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