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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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Smash hits the Nintendo Switch

Super Smash Bros. delivers what the fans wanted in the latest “Ultimate” instalment, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the latest addition to the popular Nintendo Smash series, has landed on the Nintendo Switch with a bang, selling 5-million copies in the first week of its release. The game has been long-anticipated since the console’s release, as many fans consider iy to be a Nintendo staple. And the wait was well worth it.

It features 74 playable fighters, 108 stages, almost 1300 Spirit characters to collect while playing, and a single-player Adventure mode that took about three days (or 28 hours) of gameplay to complete. The game offers far more gameplay than its predecessors, making it the Smash game that gives its players the best bang for their buck.

For those new to the game, the goal is to fight opponents and build up their damage score (draining their health) to knock them off the stage eventually. This makes the game seem chaotic, as many players jump around the platforms as if they were on quicksand, in order to avoid being hit by the other players.

It also services two kinds of players: the competitive and the casual.

Competitive players can be matched on the online service by skill ranking to enjoy playing with similarly high-skilled opponents. This is especially important in e-sports training for the game, and for players wanting to master combos against other human players. The casual gamer is also catered for, with eight-player chaos and button-mashing to see who comes out luckiest. This segment is also important for those wanting to learn how to play.

Training mode is also a place to go for those learning to play. It offers “CPU” players that are graded by intensity to train as a single player to learn a character’s moves, combos and general fighting style. More challenging CPU players can also be used by competitive players to train when there isn’t a Wi-Fi connection available.

Direct Play features in this game, allowing two players with two Switch consoles to play against each other over a direct connection – no Wi-Fi needed. This is especially useful to those who want to have a social gaming element on the go, similar to that of the cable connector of the Gameboy.

Click here to read Bryan Turner review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

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Win Funko Fortnite in Vinyl

Gadget and Gammatek have nine Funko Fortnite figurines to give away.

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A Funko Pop figurine based on a character set is indicative of reaching the heights of pop culture. It is no surprise, then, that the world’s biggest online game, Fortnite, has its own line of Funko Pop figurines. The Funkos are modeled on the characters in game, including Drift, Ragnarok, Dark Vanguard, Volar, Tracera Ops, and Sparkle Specialist.

Now, local Funko distributor Gammatek has released the Fortnite figurines in South Africa. To celebrate, Gadget and Gammatek are giving away a set of three Funko Fortnite figurines to each of three readers (9 figurines in total). To enter, first click on your favourite Funko Pop on the next page and post the Tweet that appears. Then, follow Gadget on Twitter.

You can put the tweet in your own words, but entries must have the competition’s hashtag (#FunkoFortnite) and mention @GadgetZA to be considered valid.

Click here to select the Funko Fortnite character you want to tweet.

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