Despite the dual headwinds of loadshedding and consumer inflation, 2023 has the potential to be a watershed year for telecommunications in South Africa, says cloud-based business telephone service Euphoria Telecom CTO Nic Laschinger.
Discussing the policy moves that are expected over the next year, Laschinger says that the 2022 auctioning of spectrum – the first sale of new frequencies for mobile applications in South Africa in well over a decade – bodes well for for the telecommunications sector.
Further, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) is planning to auction more spectrum, with seven bands earmarked for the new auction, specifically radio frequency spectrum suitable for fourth-generation (4G) and fifth-generation (5G) technologies.
“For users this means faster connections which better support real-time applications like gaming, telemedicine, videoconferencing and so on. More available spectrum should improve network coverage, especially for remote and rural areas, and improve the strength of certain signals,” he says, noting that it should also reduce infrastructure costs for providers, savings which could potentially be passed on to the end-users of these services.
In addition, Icasa published the Draft Amendment Radio Frequency Spectrum Regulations 2022 document, which was available for review and comment until the end of January, that could enable some short-range radio apparatus operators to go free-range.
If approved, this will contribute to improving speed, latency and capacity, particularly in new-generation wireless devices.
Laschinger, citing Icasa’s statement, says that the lower 6 GHz band is rapidly emerging worldwide as a key component in broadband roll-out and uptake, providing an essential local loop component to support fibre or fixed wireless access backhaul and WiFi deployment.
“What this means for users is, for example, faster WiFi from your fibre router, reduced router congestion and less signal interference in short ranges, enabling faster data transfer and lower latency services. That is also great for edge computing applications, like autonomous vehicles,” he explains.
With spectrum allocation continuing to open up – and digital migration seemingly imminent – the country is ripe with potential to provide broader and cheaper Internet connectivity.
The long-awaited shift from analogue to digital television (TV) will open up bands in the lower frequencies, which are ideal to provide broadband connectivity to rural and underserved areas.
Late last year, Communication and Digital Technologies Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni announced the intention to switch off the analogue television broadcast signal on March 31, after many delays over the past few years.
“Analogue signals are chunky and needy – analogue TV bands need buffer bands on either side to stop signal interference. Moving broadcast signals over from analogue to digital will free up not only the bands used for TV transmission, but also the buffer bands on either side, collectively called TV white spaces,” she says.
The migration will make available the spectrum in the lower frequency bands, namely 470 MHz to 649 MHz, excluding the Radio Astronomy subband, for use in the deployment of Internet connectivity in rural, under- and unserved communities.
“These lower-frequency bands are ideal for transmitting data across great distances, unlike the higher-frequency bands – third-generation (3G) and higher – which are better over short distances.”
Laschinger also highlights government proposals to shift from TV licensing to a device-independent tax or household levy within five years and to “sunset” second-generation and 3G technologies by 2025.
“For now, though, it is clear that – on paper, at least – the South African government has ambitions to use regulation to enable bold digital transformation and is looking to 2023 to lay the groundwork,” he concludes.