Telecoms boom for South Africa

[Image] The new 8ta store offers customers solutions for mobile and fixed-line products.

[Image] In just two years the 8ta network has seen impressive growth, says Pieter Spies, Telkom’s managing executive for mobile sales.
(Images: 8ta)

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Telecommunications in South Africa is gathering speed, says Pieter Spies, the managing executive of Telkom mobile sales. He was speaking at the opening of a new 8ta store in Fourways, north of Johannesburg.

The event was one of around 30 store openings that will take place around the country over the next few months and will see 8ta expand its retail footprint by about 40%.

The mobile provider of national fixed-line operator Telkom, 8ta launched in October 2010 and in just over two years, according to Spies, has captured a 5% market share of the competitive data market, with data sales growing around 5% from month to month.

“After only two years in business this is good news for us,” says Spies, “and on the voice side, we have doubled our consumer base in the last year and seen a steady fixed and mobile increment in recent months.”

The new 8ta stores allow customers to conveniently shop for mobile and fixed-line products at the same time, and once all the openings are done, 8ta will introduce a technology first for South Africa that will allow customers to interact with its products on the actual shop windows, says Spies. This is in the plan for 2013.

Besides upgrades to its fixed-line network, the mobile provider is currently running a four-month long term evolution (LTE) trial in Johannesburg, following the launch in October of a LTE service – currently limited to 70 base stations in Johannesburg and Midrand – by rival Vodacom, after its trial concluded two years ago.

Vodacom’s main competitor MTN announced that its LTE network went live on 1 December and customers can buy LTE-enabled devices in stores. The country’s fourth mobile provider Cell C, as well as fixed-line operator Neotel, are reportedly also getting ready for LTE, with the latter curently conducting an LTE trial at its head office.

Amith Maharaj of Telkom Mobile said, in a statement on the 8ta website, that the company was excited about the new strategy. “The demand for faster, superior mobile data services is mounting.”

Maharaj said that tests with the LTE technology, using an enabled device, have seen peak speeds of up to 90Mbps for downloads and up to 25Mbps for uploads, but stressed that customers would not get these speeds consistently.

Keeping up with customer demand

The expansion of the 8ta retail division will help the company to keep up with the consumer demand, and to keep its customers informed about the latest developments such as LTE.

LTE is the latest in the development of technologies designed to speed up wireless networks and control network congestion. It’s based on and is the successor to early mobile standards such as Edge and HSDPA. Providers all over the world are touting LTE as 4G, meaning fourth generation technology, although some experts say that LTE doesn’t have the capabilities to be called true 4G.

Nevertheless, LTE offers faster download and upload speeds than ever before, as well as better call quality. In order to take advantage of this leap in speed, however, customers must have an LTE-enabled device.

Because LTE needs fibre optic cables to operate at the speeds it is capable of, its introduction into South Africa is expected to also facilitate the implementation of fibre-to-the-home.

According to Mark Taylor, CEO of mobile solutions provider Nashua Mobile, the promised faster speeds are also dependent on the right infrastructure being present from beginning to end, as well as proximity to an LTE base station and an optimal frequency, which has not yet been allocated by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. It’s not enough to just have access to the handful of new undersea cables that came online during 2011 and 2012.

African telecoms technology is flourishing

South Africa follows other African countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia and Tanzania in its rollout of LTE.

“We’re getting great feedback from our LTE trial,” says Spies, “and the network will go live next year.”

South Africa is going to need it – results released in late November of the South African Network Society Survey, conducted to assess the profile of South African internet users, show that one in three South African adults uses the internet. Of these, almost 75% connect via their mobile phones, although most also have access to computers at home, work, and internet cafes. The representative sample of 1 589 respondents was drawn from urban and rural areas.

Meanwhile, results of the 2012 Global Cloud Index, released by telecommunications company Cisco, show that South Africa’s mobile network performance improved by 50% from 2011 to 2012, making it one of the most improved countries in the survey.

And the 2012 Akamai State of the Internet report, released in October, revealed that South Africa’s average internet connection speed of 1.8Mbps doesn’t lag too far behind the global average of 2.6Mbps. This is an increase of 19% over the previous result.