Members of the Wireless Access Providers’ Association of South Africa (WAPA) are uniquely positioned to assist in the achievement of the progressive broadband policy announced by the Cabinet last week.
The aim of the National Broadband Policy, Strategy and Plan, referred to as “South Africa Connect” is to contribute to economic growth, development, and job creation. The stated aims announced by Cabinet include having speeds of 5Mbps available to 50% of the population by 2016 and 90% by 2020.
Achieving the targets announced last week will require solution delivery from the entire industry. In particular, having 5Mbps speeds available to 90% of the population will require infrastructure and services outside of the major metropolitan areas. WAPA members are uniquely positioned to enable this, as many are SME wireless ISPs (WISPs). Wireless ISPs can, in many cases, extend their coverage areas to new areas faster and with lower capital costs than the alternative, as it may not be commercially feasible to extend ADSL and fibre infrastructure to the last mile due to numerous technical challenges, high costs, and difficulties ensuring a positive return on investment for larger operators.
WAPA Chairperson Mohammad Patel says: “Cabinet has put a stake in the ground by setting goals for both short- and long-term broadband penetration and speeds. WAPA looks forward to helping government achieve these aims, particularly in rural areas where our members are already delivering the high-quality broadband services available in those communities.”
WAPA is the largest voluntary membership organisation in the telecommunications industry. Its current membership is at 175 and growing at a phenomenal rate due to the massive growth in wireless internet provisioning via Wi-Fi and high speed point-to-point links as an efficient and cost-effective method of providing connectivity to South Africa.
The objectives of South Africa Connect align closely with WAPA’s own strategic aims. By enabling partnerships and providing training, lobbying, and promoting the industry, WAPA aims to spur further growth of the industry in 2014 and beyond, all of which will help members to provide better and faster services to more customers in more areas.\
It will, however, be very difficult for private industry to assist the government in achieving these targets without consistency of leadership and clarity of vision at the Department of Communications, where until recently, this has not been the case. WAPA regulatory advisor, Dominic Cull from Ellipsis Regulatory Solutions, comments: “There is no doubt that the frequent changes of Ministers of Communications has not helped to create a stable policy environment in which actual implementation can take place. The game of ‘pass the policy parcel’ is now hopefully over, and we would be fortunate if the energetic and engaging Yunus Carrim were to be left as the man in possession when the music stops.”