GSMA: South African Mobile Broadband Impact ‘Worth Billions’
Mobile broadband and related industries are expected to generate 1.8 percent of South Africa’s total GDP and create as many as 28,000 jobs by 2015, according to a sector growth study from GSMA, an international mobile broadband industry group.
GSMA Spokesman Mark Smith said that the firm commissioned research firm Analysys Mason in an effort to highlight the potential of South Africa’s technology base and lobby government agencies to re-allocate spectrum to drive economic growth. “We wanted to focus on how responsible spectrum management and reduction of administrative barriers to network expansion could serve as key enablers of mobile broadband in South Africa,” Smith told Satellite News.
Analysys Mason Research Manager Robert Schumann led the study, which outlined the impact of mobile broadband on the domestic economy. “Our findings describe some of the innovative services that are already available using wireless data services. The challenge for policymakers, regulators and operators is to ensure that data access becomes faster and cheaper, and a critical part of this is responsible spectrum management,” Schumann said in a statement.
Leading the way in South Africa’s broadband market is high-speed packet access (HSPA) technology, currently connecting 62 percent of broadband subscribers. HSPA provides operators with an upgrade path to LTE if the appropriate spectrum is made available, Smith said. “LTE deployments in internationally harmonized spectrum bands benefit from economies of scale, which drive down equipment and handset costs,” said Smith.
This phenomenon already has been demonstrated in the successes of both GSM and UMTS technology over the last 20 years, Schumann said in the report. “The global mobile industry favors international coordination of the 2.6 GHz spectrum band for the deployment of LTE. However, in South Africa, a legacy allocation of spectrum in this band to Sentech, which has remained dormant and unused for years, currently blocks ICASA from allocating this spectrum for mobile.”
The South African government has set national coverage targets of universal broadband access by 2019, with at least 15 percent household penetration. In its findings, Analysys Mason recommended that the South African government re-allocate spectrum in the 2.6 GHz band in order to achieve its national broadband coverage targets and support the deployment of LTE as soon as possible.
The GSMA also called on South African communications regulator ICASA, along with the country’s government, to act on mobile spectrum allocation, taxation, planning permissions and access to microwave spectrum for backhaul. “It is imperative that ICASA provides clarity over future spectrum release plans and offers assurances that spectrum awards will follow international best practice. Harmonized spectrum allocations must be made to bring South Africa in line with the rest of the world and to maintain the momentum of HSPA and hasten the arrival of LTE,” GSMA Government and Public Policy Adviser Ross Bateson said in a statement.
With South Africa’s lack of fixed-line infrastructure, the role played by mobile broadband in meeting these targets and driving social and economic advancement will be significant, said Smith. “No one could have foreseen the magnitude of the rise of wireless communications 20 years ago. Today, we know that decisions about broadband — and particularly spectrum management — can have an impact in the billions for both for investors and for the economy as a whole.”