Mobile view on digital dividend

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Wireless technology can help to reduce the high cost of rolling out a broadband network in South Africa but will not reach the high speeds of the costlier alternative, fiber. So said Vodacom’s principal engineer: Regulator Affairs, Mortimer Hope, at the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA) digital dividend workshop held in Johannesburg on 7 and 8 April.

Hope continued: “Although fiber is the best way to bring speedy broadband to communities, it’s not widely deployed in South Africa as it’s very expensive. Seventy percent of the cost of deploying a fiber broadband network lies in the access network (ie. access in homes). Opting for a wireless network will save costs but will only reach speeds of 40 or 50 MHz per second. Studies show that Internet traffic will have increased 39 times by 2014. In South Africa mobile broadband penetration has been growing faster than fixed line broadband.

“Regarding the digital dividend (ie. the frequency spectrum that will be freed up once South Africa migrates from analogue to digital broadcasting), Vodacom believes that  LTE (Long Term Evolution – one of the latest mobile network communication standards) is the best route for mobile operators. Looking at what happened to WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access – a telecommunications protocol that provides fixed and mobile Internet) it’s clear that we shouldn’t allocate a frequency band to a specific technology. The interest in WiMAX has decreased and switched to LTE – typically 5 MHz channels in the larger continuous spectrum blocks will deliver high speeds of broadband.’

According to Hope, Vodacom believes that the 2.6 GHz band should be awarded at the same time as the 800 MHz band (ie. the digital dividend). “We think 10 MHz is needed for national coverage and that Neotel should have Channel 1, while other channels should be licensed through a competitive process. Six duplex channels of 5 MHz each is the way to go.

“In terms of the timeline, Phase 1 should be the release of 800 MHz band. Vodacom understands that this will be freed from December 2013 as this is the government’s deadline for the switch off of the analogue signal. We suggest to ICASA that this band be licensed a year in advance so that mobile network operators can be ready by December 2013.’

Phase 2, said Mortimer, will see “white space’ between the blocks of spectrum. “We suggest that these allocations be compressed by the broadcasters to become continuous. Therefore if the digital dividend is licensed early, it will be beneficial to South Africa.

“It’s is Vodacom’s belief that there should be national licences and that everyone should be allowed to apply for them, for at least 2 x 10 MHz per licensee. Licences should also be technology neutral and the minimum period of the licence be set at 20 years. Very importantly, operators who are licensed should not ignore rural areas of South Africa.’

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