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Fair usage policies will enhance customer experience

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According to MALAN SMITH of Nokia Siemens Networks, a fair usage policy implemented by wireless service providers will not be a hindrance to customers, but instead will benefit them. He believes this because as more users demand more data, base stations become clogged down ‚ thereby putting strain on the entire network. He believes that a mere 5% of wireless users will suffer from a fair usage policy ‚ those users that download more than 100GB per month, while the remaining 95% will have a reliable Internet connection.

The South African broadband landscape is changing fast in light of new offerings coming to the fore providing an uncapped service to the market. MWeb was first to market, with the big players quickly following suit, announcing similar solutions. This has been met with a mixed reaction with some consumers stating that the uncapped service being advertised is not ‚truly uncapped‚ and others applauding MWeb for making this bold move.

Although many experts believe that South Africans will not immediately buy into the uncapped model, concerns have been raised over whether our local networks can handle a sudden increase in traffic. ‚The most important thing to remember is that radio spectrum is a limited resource,‚ says Malan Smith, Head of MEA Networks Solutions for Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN). ‚On a DSL (fixed) line there is a contention ratio that works fine, but when it comes to a wireless network, the traffic spectrum is shared by all users which will put pressure on mobile base stations and eventually the entire network should there be a massive uptake in uncapped services.‚ Malan Smith believes that it is going to become absolutely critical for operators to ensure they have fair usage policies in place. ‚A few users can literally kill your network, so unless you have the policy in place and police it effectively, it uncapped services will be meaningless and your customer experience will suffer,‚ he adds.

There has also already been a dramatic increase in the number of smart phones being used in South Africa and this number is expected to continue growing. ‚The challenge with these phones is that they continuously update to keep the phone ‚alive’, which puts added pressure on the network,‚ says Smith. ‚As we have already seen in the US and other markets, if you don’t manage this, you are overloading your network without people even using it much,‚ he adds. NSN is currently investigating a world leader in methods for operators to more effectively manage their networks as a result of the increase in smart phones.

In more prominent technical circles, fair usage policies have been met with a lot of negativity. Smith believes this perception is as a result of a small minority with extreme usage requirements. ‚Any fair usage policy on those networks is going to be to the benefit of 95% of the users,‚ he says. ‚Those that will suffer as a result of the policy are the 5% minority, looking to use 100GB of data per month.‚ This level of usage equates to roughly 20 full-length uncompressed DVDs or 100 compressed movies per month.

‚The perception that a fair usage policy will ‚cut some of the users off’ is also incorrect,‚ says Smith. ‚Usage is controlled on a protocol level, preventing the use of certain protocols like BitTorrent, but they still have access and use of the Internet web and solutions applications like email.‚ Bandwidth is allocated according to traffic type at that point in time.

Smith believes South African operators are ready for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup. ‚All the players have been engaging in focus groups and intense planning for the past couple of years and there are large programmes in place to ensure that there is enough capacity to meet demand.‚ Where there might be a capacity problem is when 60 000 people simultaneously try to call from the stadium to boast about watching Bafana Bafana win. ‚It might not be the best cellular experience for them at that point in time, but it can definitely be managed,‚ he concludes.

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