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SA Internet speeds may decrease with LTE rollout

Internet speeds in South Africa may slow as bandwidth sharing increases due to increased Internet usage and rollout of Long-Term Evolution (LTE) networks, according to David Belson, product line director, custom government engineering at Akamai.

The government of South Africa is currently working on achieving 100 percent Internet penetration as part of its ICT Vision 2020 targets, with the 2011 Census reporting 35.2 percent penetration.

Yet there have been concerns that, as more people use the Internet, speed may decline overall if the infrastructure available is insufficient to cope with the pressure of new users.

Belson explained to HumanIPO the impact that higher numbers of connections may have on broadband speeds, with the number of households sharing a connection key to Internet speeds.

“Depending on how infrastructure is/was built out, and how “shared” it is, additional Internet usage could result in lower actual speeds experienced by end users, especially during peak hours, due to congestion, and contention for a limited resource (bandwidth),” he said.

“By “sharing”, I am referring to the distribution of the bandwidth to multiple users in a given area – for example, if a gigabit connection is brought to a cabinet, is it shared across 10, 100, or 1000 households in a neighbourhood.”

However, Belson added that slower speeds may be avoided if proper attention is paid to putting satisfactory infrastructure in place.

“If the infrastructure was built out with sufficient headroom, or is easily upgradeable, or if sharing is limited, then speed impacts may be minimal,” he said.

Given the large rural population spread across South Africa, it has been suggested by industry players that the only way for the government to achieve its 100 percent penetration target is by capitalising on the potential offered by mobile technologies. Of the 35.2 percent of South African households with access to the Internet, 16.3 percent use their mobile devices.

Network operators are in the midst of launching LTE networks across South Africa, which once operational will significantly enhance the Internet offerings of mobile devices.

“Broader rollout of LTE services will likely drive additional Internet usage across the country, assuming that such services, and the required devices, are affordably priced,” Belson comments.

This increased capacity may have positive or negative impacts on Internet speeds across the country, says Belson, depending on the state of infrastructure and the amount of spectrum made available to network operators.

“LTE speeds have historically been rather high, especially as compared to the access speeds available through older mobile technologies/protocols. In some cases/areas, the LTE speeds are also higher than what users can get on wired connections from their telephone or cable companies. In these cases, broader rollout will likely serve to raise the average speeds, aggregated across all connections,” he explains.

Turning to the potential pitfalls of LTE prevalence, Belson comments: “As noted… regarding “sharing”, as more users adopt LTE-capable devices, limited spectrum will be shared across more users, and the actual speeds that users experience may decline.”

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