Telkom SA chief highlights digital inclusion challenges; preps LTE-Advanced rollout

Telkom SA chief highlights digital inclusion challenges; preps LTE-Advanced rollout

22 OCT 2014

LIVE FROM BROADBAND WORLD FORUM 2014: Alphonzo Samuels (pictured), CTO of operator Telkom SA, outlined the obstacles to providing broadband coverage in a market such as South Africa, where there is a vast difference between the options available to those living in towns and their dispersed, often poorer, counterparts.

“We talk about the internet of things, the internet of everything, the reality is 60 per cent of the world population today is not connected to the internet,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, mobile technology comes high on the list, particularly In terms of LTE. But “absolutely critical” to this will be 800MHz spectrum, which is not currently available in his home market.

“I don’t have to tell any of you the advantages of doing this in these low frequency bands. In South Africa the reality is that we haven’t done the digital terrestrial television migration, and so we are probably about two to two and a half years away from when 800MHz will become a reality,” Samuels said.

Telkom is looking to LTE-Advanced as a way of providing fixed wireless access, further extending the reach of broadband services. “We’ve got access to a very large chunk of 2.3GHz spectrum, and we are looking at fixed wireless in terms of LTE-Advanced,” he continued.

Earlier this year, Telkom said that it will rollout LTE-A to more than 50 suburbs across South Africa by the end of this year.

But other issues also need to be addressed. Samuels cited the current data pricing model, where consumers with more expensive tariffs get much larger data allowances, “but if someone wants to buy a single gigabyte of data, it costs ten times what you would pay in a bundle”.

“Obviously we’ve got to find the right way to smooth the mobile broadband curve, because those who really cannot afford it, those are the ones that are paying the most in terms of cost per bit,” he noted.

Terminal pricing is also a thorny issue. “When we look at devices, I think the first vision was to get a device at sub-$100. Let me put $100 in context: for probably about 4.4 million South Africans living off social grants, their total income per month is around about $100, $110.”

“I think the next thing we should push for is to get smart devices at the entry level, that can work on LTE-Advanced, that probably cost about $50 to $60. And that is a challenge I’m putting out there for device manufacturers,” he said.

And infrastructure sharing also came onto the agenda, with Samuels noting a trend that has been highlighted several times at the event this week: in developed areas, there are multiple service providers building networks to serve the same, but lucrative, customers.

“If we find a way to get a very good business model for infrastructure sharing, we can take some of the capital investment and try and put it toward getting everybody connected,” he noted.

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Steve Costello

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