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Spectrum is red herring in WOAN debate

MD of Internet Solutions, SAKI MISSAIKOS, explores the local telecommunications industry and highlights lobbying efforts, challenges and benefits to a fair marketplace, which should promote competitiveness to reduce the cost of data and services, increase access to the Internet and stimulate economic development.

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Between 1999 and 2004, Telkom’s monopoly of access to crucial international bandwidth and high-speed ADSL lines meant they could freely charge ISPs excessive fees. And they did. Inevitably, this left them with no choice but to pass costs on to their customers,.

We demanded a competitive market, and aggressively lobbied to have Telkom’s wholesale and retail divisions separated to end its monopoly. Under those conditions, we believed that South Africa’s economy and its citizens could not fully realise the benefit of the Internet.

It was a long, tough battle, and it was a great day – I remember it very well –  when in 2012 the Competition Commission ruled that Telkom was engaged in ‘bullying’ and ‘anti-competitive’ business practises.

Does industry not want a competitive, fair and level playing field?

To my frustration, both in and outside the context of the wholesale open access network (WOAN) debate, it appears that our local telecommunications industry is working against what should be the bedrock of our industry – a competitive, fair and level playing field.  Companies with vested interests in their smaller monopolies are cocooning themselves in legal posturing, adopting a protectionist stance for short-term financial gains.

South Africa’s Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) are nervous about the WOAN model proposed by government and are vocal in their opposition. The irony is that the conventional MNO is starting to sound like and resemble our old fixed line operator.

Arguably, what the MNOs are trying to protect are new business models that establish themselves as ISPs. This is a natural evolution of a telecommunications landscape once dominated by ‘voice’ services that are history compared to the demand for Internet connectivity and data.

The era of wireless communications

As we continue to communicate for work and play in a new era of wireless communications, the market must open up.  Indeed, it is vital that Internet access is unbundled from other value-chain activities.  It happened with Telkom, and now it must happen in the mobile space.

I have no doubt that this will stimulate opportunities for new competitors, deliver better pricing, and usher in a more competitive, fairer marketplace.  The winners will be South Africa and South Africans.

Achieving the outcomes of the ICT policy white paper

Let’s stop being side-tracked by the obsession with spectrum.  In a country like South Africa, the communication needs of wide-spread rural communities and more densely-populated cities means that newer technologies like 5G cannot simply take over from legacy wireless systems like 3G and even 2G. They will still exist alongside for many years to come.

Any qualified engineer in the industry will tell you that there’s enough spectrum.  The key is how we use it – or indeed abuse it.

If more competition – to reduce the cost of data and services, increase access to the Internet and stimulate economic development – really is government’s aim, as stated in the 2016 ICT policy white paper, then a WOAN is not the answer.

After all, no matter who or what kind of enterprise holds a monopoly, network monopolies bring high prices.  This is a barrier to access for many South Africans, and negatively impacts the economy and society.  The fundamentals of economics dictate that competition reduces abuse of market dominance, and produces exactly the price and service results that government wants.

A WOAN is not the answer, but many WOANs may well be.

I propose that MNOs are compelled to completely separate their wholesale and retail businesses as a first step towards achieving the desired outcomes detailed in government’s ICT policy white paper.  This wholesale / retail divorce has sound precedence that should not be ignored.  At a wholesale level, there’ll be full price transparency, and all ISPs will be able to compete fairly at a retail level.

By compelling MNOs to fully separate their wholesale and retail businesses, we achieve several positive outcomes:

  1. Industry entrants and existing players that do not own their own infrastructure can build their businesses on the investments made by others, increasing the depth of the market and providing consumers – be they individuals who still want voice services or large enterprises wholly dependent on fibre – with all the benefits of more competition and choice;
  2. Entities that own infrastructure still profit from their investments, encouraging further development of the industry and maintenance of South Africa’s network, which, when compared to much of the continent, is far superior;
  3. A WOAN controlled by a government- or industry-body could be launched in parallel with leftover spectrum.  This will create a comparative environment that allows all the industry to evaluate the viability of the model for our market;
  4. There is reduced opportunity for any industry player to ingratiate itself with the body managing the WOAN for spectrum or any other market advantage; and
  5. Allocation of spectrum to those operators that want it – through application or auction – will not be delayed because of a prolonged industry consultation that must precede any significant policy shift.

The commercial interests of South Africa’s MNOs and ISPs are not at odds with government’s ideals of accessible, affordable, quality internet connectivity and communications services for all citizens.

We all share these ideals, but they are only achievable in a commercially-sound business environment. Regulation must be formulated in the interests of consumers and within a legislative framework that prevents market abuse and eliminates barriers to entry. It must embrace, encourage, and stimulate competition, which gives local, even neighbourhood, operators an opportunity to thrive if they develop compelling product and service offerings that perhaps national service providers cannot.

Since its inception in 1993, Internet Solutions has been championing a fair and competitive market and we are not going to stop.  We believe that it is not only our duty, but also the duty of the entire telecommunications industry to fight for the right of South Africa to enjoy all the social and economic benefits of the Internet that come about when it is accessible and affordable to all.

I am not convinced that a WOAN can give South Africa these things, but WOANS can.

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The future of the book… and of reading

Many fear that the days of the printed book are numbered. In truth, it is not so much the book that is evolving, but the very act of reading, argues ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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Let’s talk about a revolutionary technology. One that has already changed the course of civilisation. It is also a dangerous technology, one that is spreading previously hidden knowledge among people who may misuse and abuse the technology in ways we cannot imagine.

Every one reading this is a link in a chain of this dangerous and subversive technology.

I’m talking, of course, about the printed book.

To understand how the book has changed society, though, we must also understand how the book has changed reading. That, in turn, will help us understand the future of the book.

Because the future of the book is in fact the future of reading.

Let’s go back to a time some may remember as their carefree youth. The year 400. 

(Go back in history with the links below.)

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Wearables enter enterprise

Regardless of whether wearables lack the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have, says RONALD RAVEL, Director B2B South Africa, Toshiba South Africa.

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The idea of integrating wearable technology into enterprise IT infrastructure is one which, while being mooted for several years now, has yet to take-off in earnest. The reasons behind previous false dawns vary. However, what is evident is that – regardless of whether wearables to date have lacked the mobility or security capabilities to fully support the ways in which we now work – organisations remain keen and willing to unlock the potential such devices have. According to ABI Research, global wearable device shipments will reach 154 million by 2021 – a significant jump from approximately 34 million in 2016.

This projected increase demonstrates a confidence amongst CIOs which perhaps betrays the lack of success in the market to date, but at the same time reflects a ripening of conditions which could make 2018 the year in which wearables finally take off in the enterprise. A maturing IoT market, advances in the development of Augmented Reality (AR), and the impending arrival of 5G – which is estimated to have a subscription base of half a billion by 2022 – are contributing factors which will drive the capabilities of wearable devices.

Perhaps the most significant catalyst behind wearables is the rise of Edge Computing. As the IoT market continues to thrive, so too must IT managers be able to securely and efficiently address the vast amounts of data generated by it. Edge Computing helps organisations to resolve this challenge, while at the same time enabling new methods of gathering, analysing and redistributing data and derived intelligence. Processing data at the edge reduces strain on the cloud so users can be more selective of the data they send to the network core. Such an approach also makes it easier for cyber-attacks to be identified at an early stage and restricted to a device at the edge. Data can then be scanned and encrypted before it is sent to the core.

As more and more wearable devices and applications are developed with business efficiency and enablement in mind, Edge Computing’s role will become increasingly valuable – helping organisations to achieve $2 trillion in extra benefits over the next five years, according to Equinix and IDC research.

Photo by Kathryn Bacher.

Where will wearables have an impact?

At the same time as these technological developments are aiding the rise of wearables, so too are CIOs across various sectors recognising how they can best use these devices to enhance mobile productivity within their organisation – another factor which is helping to solidify the market. In particular it is industries with a heavy reliance on frontline and field workers – such as logistics, manufacturing, warehousing and healthcare – which are adopting solutions like AR smart glasses. The use case for each is specific to the sector, or even the organisation itself, but this flexibility is often what makes such devices so appealing. While wearables for the more traditional office worker may offer a different but no more efficient way for workers to conduct every day tasks such as checking emails and answering phone calls, for frontline and field workers they are being tailored to meet their unique demands and enhance their ability to perform specific tasks.

Take for example boiler engineers conducting an annual service, who could potentially use AR smart glasses to overlay the schematics of the boiler to enable a hands-free view of service procedures – meaning that when a fault becomes a barrier to repair, the engineer is able to use collaboration software to call for assistance from a remote expert. Elsewhere, in the healthcare sector smart eyewear may support clinicians with hands-free identification of patient records, medical procedures and information on medicines and results.

Such examples demonstrate the immediate and diverse potential of wearables across different verticals. With enterprise IT infrastructure now in the position to embrace such technologies, it is this ability to deliver bespoke functionality to mobile workers which will be the catalyst for continued uptake throughout 2018 and beyond.

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