Broadband centre launches in SA


A map of the internet. The broadband
phenomenon will connect people around
the world in a matter of seconds.
Image: Wikimedia

A broadband cable modem for home use.
Image: Wikimedia

Khanyi Magubane

As South Africa enters what’s been termed the “broadband boom”, internet company Cisco, is leading the way with the creation of an information and communication technology (ICT) innovation hub centre.

The innovation hub, billed at about R215-milion (US$ 26-million), is set to be an advanced technology incubation centre aimed at fostering and developing local skills, intellectual property, entrepreneurship and solution development capabilities in the local ICT sector.

Although the centre comes with a hefty price tag, Cisco says that the initiative is expected to contribute more than a R1-billion ($ 124-million) to the economy over the next five years.

The hub aims to empower individuals with the needed skills when the broadband revolution kicks off in the country.

According to Cisco South Africa managing director, Steve Midgley, South Africa is not far from joining the international community that has woken up to the benefits of broadband.

“South Africa is on the brink of entering a broadband boom,” he said. “This will change the way people live and work – giving the public sector and business the opportunity to gain significant efficiencies.”

Various programmes will run from the innovation hub, which is expected to create a minimum of 200 direct and 800 indirect employment opportunities.

Initiatives to be based at the hub include InnovationLab, which will focus on developing the necessary technology solutions to solve common business challenges in South Africa.

Also based at the centre will be the Cisco global talent acquisition programme (GTAP) aimed at tackling the growing shortage of skilled IT networking professionals in the country.

The GTAP has already absorbed the first group of students who will be trained up to high-level network entrepreneurs, and eventually qualify as a Cisco Certified Internetwork Experts.

Another skills development programme, Cisco Netversity, aims to create some 150-network design engineers through an experiential architecture and design programme.

Midgley says Cisco has high hopes for the project, “[We aim] to drive productivity enhancements, to achieve cost reductions and to gain access to new market segments within their existing business models. [The innovation hub] will also create an enabling platform from which new business models can be created.”

What is broadband?

Broadband is a technological revolution on its own. Broadband enables the high-speed transmission of large amounts of data using cable technology. It’s basically a type of fast internet connection with an increased bandwidth.

It increases the number of services that can be offered via the internet and digital television.

High-capacity optical fibre networks may be used or, if there are existing phone networks, a technique called multiplexing allows more information to be carried through the old copper wires.

According to, a beginners’ guide to using broadband in the United Kingdom, broadband enables the internet user to

  • Watch video clips and listen to music in real time, including live broadcasts.
  • Download music, software, film trailers and other files faster and more effective.
  • Play games online.
  • Do everything you could do before, just much faster.

Other features of broadband include; not having to log on or off to your internet connection and eradicating fears of high call costs, as is the case with many dial-up connections.

Broadband and Africa

ITU telecom, a United Nations agency for information and communication technologies, says whilst broadband has been swift to take off in the developed world, Africa has been a different story.

According to the agency, fixed line penetration is the lowest in the world, with only 2.8% at the end of 2002. This is in stark comparison with Europe’s 41%.

The broadband market in Africa is currently at a budding stage with a number of Africa’s public telecoms operators beginning to deploy broadband services between 2002 and 2003.

The agency argues that despite some growth and developments on the African broadband “scene”, the market remains at very early stages in its development, and its reach is limited to a minimal target market.

It states that it’s easy to view broadband internet access as some sort of a luxury,

“Broadband may be considered a luxury to many African governments whose citizens still lack access to basic amenities such as clean drinking water” says Avita Dodoo, project officer for Internet Policy at ITU.

BMI-TechKnowlege (BMI-T), a Johannesburg-based telecommunications, internet and financial services consulting agency on the other hand, says there might be too much broadband in Africa.

The company has written a report on undersea and land infrastructure on the continent. Research director, Brian Neilson, said it seemed unlikely that all of the projects aimed at carrying the broadband cables would come to fruition.

According to Neilson, Seacom, a cable carrying line that runs along the east coast of Africa should be operational from 2009. He said that it was ahead of the race and should emerge as the winner.

Neilson also noted that Seacom had simple ownership structures, supply and finance agreements in place, which was not the case with some of the other potential projects.

The report also notes that the four most likely projects to come to fruition, according to BMI-T’s analysis of their business case and project management approach, were Seacom, The East African Marine System (or teams, spearheaded by the Kenyan government), the SA government’s Infraco (it plans a west African cable) and pan-African initiative Eassy (the eastern African submarine cable system).

The rest of the projects that were deemed to never see the light of day, were bogged down by the complexity of multi-government involvement. Such a project, Neilson said, was the Nepad (New Partnership for Africa’s Development) led UhuruNet project.

Africa has been rated fourth in broadband penetration among six continents that were sampled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in the 2007.

According to the website: South Africa – the good news, in 2007 Africa was rated by the Economist Intelligence Unit as fourth in its uptake of broadband services. Africa was rated along with the Middle East region. The continent scored 7.4 behind North America 10, Western Europe 9.9, Central and Eastern Europe 7.6.

Scores are on scale of one to 10, with 10 representing the highest level of affordability.

South Africa was reported by EIU as an example where broadband deployment progress has made broadband access much more affordable in recent years.

“South African e-commerce consultancy World Wide Worx reports that online sales of consumer goods grew by 25% in 2006 to the tune of R688 million (US$86-million.” EIU added in its report.

Broadband and South Africa

South Africa has an increasing broadband market. In 2005, a number of broadband product categories were released in the country, with South Africa’s fixed land line operator Telkom’s ADSL programme seen as the most successful.

Although Telkom, a government parastal company is currently enjoying a monopoly in the ICT sector, it isn’t the only provider of broadband solutions.

Vodacom and MTN, South Africa’s two leading cellular providers also joined the broadband market with their 3G services in 2005. 3G refers to the third generation of cellular data transfer, giving users a faster download rate.

Other broadband providers in South Africa include the wireless providers, Sentech and Wireless Broadband Solutions Pty ltd, which currently offer a service commonly known as iBurst, a broadband wireless internet service.

The South African government is also part of a number of programmes, most notably, UhuruNet.

UhuruNet was established on 15 October 2007, when ministers responsible for ICT and/or Telecommunications in countries that are signatory to the Kigali Protocol, met in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was done under the auspices of the Nepad-eAfrica Commission.

The participants of the meeting approved the construction of a high capacity submarine cable system with the potential to connect each and every coastal and island African country, and connecting the continent to the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and India.

The east coast cable will allow for links that will enable landlocked countries to be connected to the cable system, which will make connectivity through Africa much easier and at a significantly reduced cost.

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