SIPs to support SA’s knowledge economy goals

South Africa has seen significant improvement in its international connectivity and backhaul infrastructure development over the past five years, says Roald Kvevli, associate director for strategy and operations at KPMG South Africa. Key to fast-tracking universal access goals now, he says, are addressing the last mile and bringing down the cost of access to end-users.

“In countries such as South Africa, the incumbents have been protected for too long, slowing development and keeping prices high. South Africa is behind many countries in terms of access speeds and pricing. Our pricing, while it has dropped, is still high globally, and only now are we are seeing 10Mbps connectivity and the emergence of long-term evolution (LTE),” he says.

Kvevli believes that the country should be aiming high in terms of the quality of broadband it delivers to households: “We should be aiming for 100Mbps over the next few years for the connectivity to be considered adequate and for the country to stay competitive,” he says.

Achieving this depends on a number of factors, he says, with a combination of technologies needed to reach rural users, and an environment conducive to private sector investment in infrastructure development in under-served areas. He notes that 3G and LTE have an important role to play in bridging the last mile gap, particularly in remote areas, but says mobile service providers are challenged in delivering faster and more widespread LTE due to a lack of available spectrum.

“Currently, LTE is only marginally better than what you get with 3G and this is not because of the operators. Improving LTE services depends on having more spectrum available and for this, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) needs to free up additional spectrum.”

The spectrum needed is not just tied up in analogue TV, says Kvevli, he notes that with additional spectrum available, as well as more advanced network management technologies, operators would be better placed to move subscribers on and off WiFi networks where appropriate, maximising the use of the LTE services and making networks ultimately more cost-effective. Despite the apparent challenges, Kvevli says: “I am positive. Considering where we’ve come from, South Africa is doing quite well. The challenge now is not moving too slowly and setting targets that are ambitious but achievable.”

Growing investment and Development

De Buys Scott, head of infrastructure advisory, global infrastructure and major projects at KPMG, notes that global population growth is putting pressure on infrastructure investment and development. “Africa is expected to double its population from the current one billion in the next 30 years, with the pace of urbanisation increasing. However, while global connectivity increased tenfold over the last six years, more than half of this uptake was in the developed world. To become globally competitive, Africa must catch up. Clearly the message is for the National Development Plan to invest in improving the coverage and quality of our connectivity simply to stay abreast of global trends. The ability to communicate quickly and at significant quality have become absolute non-negotiables.”

Alpheus Mangale, managing director of Cisco South Africa, is positive about the foundation laid by the National Infrastructure Development Plan. “Now we have a foundation we can build on and refine,” he says. However, he notes that the government cannot deliver near-100% broadband access to the nation in isolation.

“We need to see public-private sector partnerships and policies conducive to greater private sector investment in broadband infrastructure development.” He believes the government is making all the right moves to set these policies in place. Mangale believes the device price barrier is coming down and that the 2020 penetration goals are achievable.

“South Africa is no different from any other country in that broadband will impact its GDP. Broadband also stands to make a significant difference to service delivery and the lives of citizens. There is the potential to dramatically improve education, healthcare and innovation, for example. But key to achieving these benefits is to look beyond the roll-out of the physical infrastructure, to the actual use cases for broadband. Broadband is of little use without applicable use cases,” he says.

Knowledge SIPs and broadband goals

Development Plan co-ordinated by the Presidential Infrastructure Co-ordinating Commission (PICC) two Sector Infrastructure Projects (SIPs) are categorised as “Knowledge SIPs”.

The first is SIP 15, which expands access to communication technology, provides for broadband coverage to all households by 2020 by establishing core Points of Presence (POPs) in district municipalities, extends new Broadband Infraco fibre networks across provinces linking districts, establishes POPs and fibre connectivity at local level, and further penetrates the network into deep rural areas.

The plan says: “While the private sector will invest in ICT infrastructure for urban and corporate networks, government will co-invest for township and rural access, as well as for e-government, school and health connectivity.”

The school rollout focus is initially on the 125 Dinaledi (science and maths-focussed) schools and 1 525 district schools. Part of digital access to all South Africans includes TV migration from analogue to digital broadcasting.

The second is SIP 16, the SKA & Meerkat – SKA is a global mega-science project, building an advanced radio-telescope facility linked to research infrastructure and high-speed ICT capacity and provides an opportunity for Africa and South Africa to contribute towards global advanced science projects. The government’s South Africa Connect National Broadband Policy supports the vision in the National Development Plan of a “seamless information infrastructure by 2030 that will underpin a dynamic and connected vibrant information society and a knowledge economy that is more inclusive, equitable and prosperous”.

The Policy notes that four key variables must be addressed for the link between broadband and economic growth to have an effect, namely:

  • Broadband must reach a critical mass of South Africans Access to broadband must be affordable Demand-side skills must be developed so that the economic and innovative potential of broadband can be exploited
  • Supply-side skills must be developed so that the economic and innovative impact of broadband can be exploited

The ITU Broadband Commission Broadband Manifesto, signed in 2011, had among its targets that:

  • By 2015, entry-level broadband services should be made affordable in developing countries through adequate regulation and market forces (amounting to less than 5% of average monthly income)
  • By 2015, 40% of households in developing countries should have internet access
  • By end 2013, the Broadband Commission Task Force on Sustainable Development noted in its report Transformative Solutions for 2015 and Beyond that “By the end of 2013, for the first time, the number of broadband subscriptions in the developing world is expected to exceed subscriptions in the developed world in both fixed and mobile. Over the last two years, the industry has added one billion mobile cellular subscriptions to the global mobile market.
  • By 2014, the number of mobile subscriptions is set to exceed 7-billion, overtaking total world population – a nearly tenfold increase over six years, from 268-million in 2007 to 2.1-billion in 2013. Developing countries account for more than half (1.16-billion) of these subscriptions, although connectivity remains uneven across countries, regions, user groups and generations. Connectivity on this scale is a game-changer and nowhere more so than in the developing world.
  • By 2016, more than 80% of broadband is expected to be mobile and many people’s first and only access to the Internet will be through a mobile device. Such connectivity, combined with advanced, low-cost devices, provides unprecedented opportunities to empower people and improve livelihoods.

This supplement has been paid for and signed off by KPMG and its business partners.

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