The South African Telecommunications, Networking and Applications Conference (SATNAC) brings together government, academia and the private sector to discuss the challenges within the telecommunications industry and to map the way forward. Kathy Gibson attended this year’s event in Hermanus.

Local loop unbundling at last – with conditions

Telkom will begin the long-awaited process of local loop unbundling (LLU) but challenges the mobile telecommunications operators to come to the party.

Sipho Maseko, group CEO of Telkom, tells delegates at the South African Telecommunications and Network Applications Conference (SATNAC) that the challenge of achieving the National Development Plan and SA Connect lies with the issue of access.

He believes the country is at an inflexion point and the industry has a duty to ensure universal access to the Internet in the next few years.

“We have already begun to reduce the price of access and are bringing down the barriers to entry,” he says.

“In addition we are aware of the turmoil relating to LLU regulations,” he adds. “In the past we would have opposed them – but now we want to be a much more open operators.”

To this end, Telkom will open up, on a trial basis, 200 of its exchanges, paving the way for a much more open approach to access.

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SA Connect finally gets moving

The South African government is beginning to implement its broadband policy, SA Connect, with a number of initiatives to be rolled out this year.

This is the word from Dr Siyabonga Cwele, minister of telecommunications and postal services, who says: “As the South African government, we are beginning to implement our broadband policy, South Africa Connect as announced by President Jacob Zuma during his 2015 State of the Nation Address,” he says.

“Through the broadband rollout, government intends to accelerate the delivery of broadband to government offices, communities and SMMEs.

“The groundwork in the eight pilot district municipalities has commenced in collaboration with Telkom and we are well on a path to ensure that all South Africans, particularly those in the rural areas have access to broadband connectivity.

“The second phase of connectivity will begin in the coming financial year and run until 2020 as all government offices in South Africa will be connected to broadband,” the minister adds.

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Masters of our own destiny

In many ways Africa is still the dark continent, and no development can take place without efficient energy.

That’s the word from Dr Mupanga Mwanakatwe, CEO of Zamtel, who adds: “From time immemorial we have always had a need to communicate,” Dr Mwanakawe points out.

“I believe Africa is a growing market. There is huge potential with 890-million subscribers at the end of 2014. With 240-million of these being broadband, there is huge opportunity for growth.”

The number of subscribers is expected to grow to 1,1-billion by 2018, with 950-million broadband subscribers

This is complemented by good GDP growth taking place across the continent.

Some of the challenges include the need to modernise network infrastructures. “In fact, this could give us the opportunity to do some form of technology leapfrogging,” Dr Mwanakatwe says.

“This will require significant amounts of capex investment, which could be difficult but we have no options.”

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What is the future role for WiFi?

WiFi is proving to be pretty controversial: its supporters believe the technology could offer the solution to universal connectivity; but others think its lack of scalability and security will severely limit its usefulness.

A panel discussion at the South African Telecommunications and Network Applications Conference (SATNAC) debating the role of WiFi in modern cities failed to determine the best business model for rolling out the technology and where it will prove to be most effective.

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The role of the service provider

When we talk about the future communications galaxy – the theme of this year’s SATNAC conference – the service providers are vital to making it a reality.

Peter Ford, MD of Cisco EMEA, points to the speed at which the industry has developed in just a few short years, making it very difficult to map the future.

While service provider revenue is currently from connectivity, this is going to change quickly as value-added services become more important. African service providers will fact increased competition from international players as they target Africa for connectivity revenue.

Ford says Cisco sees four force that will have an impact on telecommunications in general and on African service providers in particular.

They are: the traffic tsunami; networks; security and privacy; and digital disruption/Internet of Things (IoT).

The amount of traffic Is rising rapidly, he says, with various devices all generating orders of magnitude more traffic than before.

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New business models need new networks

The biggest challenge facing the telecommunications industry is the declining revenue streams as the traditional business models change.

Azfar Aslam, senior director and partner, Bell Labs Consulting EMEA, Alcatel-Lucent, points out that a lot of operators are addressing declining revenues by moving into adjacent markets while seeking to reduce costs.

Joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions are also coming to the fore in an attempt to ease price pressures increase purchase power and reduce ARPU erosion.

In Africa, there are two additional challenges, Aslam points out, with the Power and energy consumption and service expansion both playing a major role.

With power constraints, telcos have to accrue additional costs just to stay up and running and to ensure energy security.

However, there have been some good steps taken to address this issue, particularly in terms of renewable energy solutions.

“We have to provide telecommunications in the future without being tied to the power providers,” he says.

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Government wants to partner with SA companies

Government is keen to build more partnerships with private companies to drive innovative solutions that address African challenges – and it wants more locally-owned companies to come on board.

Naledi Pandor, minister of science and technology, points out that the department has a well-publicised research and development (R&D) strategy roadmap that is being implemented by the CSIR Meraka Institute.

“The aim is to develop an innovative, sustainable indigenous ICT industry,” she says. “We aim to attract investment from ICT companies, and establish laboratories in South Africa.”

With the aim of increasing public and private investment, Pandor explains that a framework has been developed to guide the department’s engagement with global ICT companies like Cisco and IBM.

“In the main, we expect this to stimulate public:private partnership in ICT R&D as well as in innovation,” she says.

The department has so far invested R62-million through partnerships. This has largely been co-funding with multinational ICT organisations, but Pandor says South African-owned partners are now being sought.

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Roll out the fibre …

This year (2015) is the year of light – and light is a critical element for modern communications.

This is according to Christoph Glingener, CEO and chief operating officer of ADVA Optical Networking, who says that light – or optical technology – is a critical component of all networks, he says, and it’s going to get more important.

Some of the mega-trends driving the industry today include virtualisation, over the top services, Industry 4.0, security, big data analytics, health and assisted living, smart cities, Internet of things, Green communications, cloud computing, communication drones and the tactile Internet.

“They are all bandwidth drivers,” says Glingener, adding that fibre networks are going to become more important than ever as these trends become mainstream.

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Don’t forget facilities management

There is a massive need for new networking and data centre capacities – and facilities management is crucial to enabling this.

Cornelius van der Merwe, chief operating officer: telecommunications at Bidvest Facilities Management, believes that FM brings together all the people, processes and technology needed to facilitate any business.

While the GDP share of FM around the world is about 5%, South Africa lags at less than 1% – and Van der Merwe warns that this could be a problem for business as a whole.

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Mobile penetration drives payment solutions

The global mobile penetration far exceeds the population, indication that it is enjoying rapid adoption.

Mobile Internet access is also growing rapidly, as is the use of social media services, says Suraj Ramlall, chief technology officer of Saab Grintek Technologies.

Africa currently enjoys a mobile penetration of 78%, having completely leapfrogged landline solutions, Ramlall says. “So it is evident there is huge potential in Africa for mobile payments.”

The fact that people living in rural communities would traditionally had to travel long distances to access funds argues that mobile payments must be a cost-effective solutions, he says.

One-third of the people living on the globe today have no access to financial services, Ramlall points out, which excludes them from participating in the economy.

Mobile payments can significantly change their lifestyle by giving them access to payments, transfers, insurance, credit and savings.

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