Achieving 100 percent broadband coverage across South Africa will be challenging, according to broadband experts Akamai, with Internet speeds, rural users and affordability key issues to be resolved.
Speaking to HumanIPO, David Belson, product line director, custom government engineering at Akamai, explained that whether or not the South African government meets its Vision 2020 target will depend largely on their definition of the terms “broadband” and “100 per cent penetration”.
Speeds will need to be set low in order to easily adapt existing infrastructure, while if 100 percent penetration is localised to specific institutional locations across the country, the target may be achievable.
“If the target speed is set sufficiently low, it may be easy enough to meet using existing infrastructure and/or without having to make significant additional investment,” explains Belson. “Similarly, if the 100% penetration figure does not refer to actual speeds/bandwidth, and instead refers to advertised speeds and/or is limited to the availability of broadband connections to specific types of institutions (educational, government, etc.), it may be easier to meet.”
Beyond properly defining the target, however, the government will still face obstacles imposed by the extent of rural settlement in South Africa, with the heightened population density of cities key to easy delivery of expansive broadband connection.
Belson comments: “…in more rural areas, it may be much harder to reach residents with both high speed wired and wireless connectivity – geographic features may make infrastructure deployment extremely hard, and if critical resources like dependable electrical power aren’t available, it again may be hard to deploy the required infrastructure.”
One financial aspect that Belson considers important refers to the position of operators. He points to the importance of government-authorised incentives for operators, including funding opportunities or tax breaks, which may prompt operators to make the necessary outlays to provide upgraded infrastructure.
“Absent these incentives, network service providers may be reticent to make the investment to deploy new, or upgrade existing, infrastructure, as they can be seen by investors as near-term capital expenditures with an unclear long-term return,” he said.
In connection with all of the above points, Belson finally argues that the pivotal factor to assuring 100 percent penetration in real terms is affordability, for while connections may be made available countrywide infrastructurally speaking, if it is beyond the financial reach of users the penetration will not be real.
“If high-speed connections are available to 100% of the population, but are not priced at a level where most can afford to purchase/subscribe, then has 100% penetration truly been achieved?” Belson questions.