On the 12th of March 2015 Monte Casino Conference Centre was the location for the Wi-Fi-Forum’s inaugural conference. The Wi-Fi Forum of South Africa is a voluntary industry body, which comprises of operators, service providers and associated parties and it was launched at AfricaCom in Cape Town, on the 13th of November 2013.
A common consensus amongst speakers during this forum was that there exists a market failure within the digital space in South Africa. Speakers such as Zahir Khan, director of Project Isizwe, who further stated that, the reason Project Isizwe was launched was to bridge this digital divide, emphasised this. The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal services, Dr Siyabonga Cwele, also emphasised the critical role that reliable and secure Internet plays in the boosting of economic growth. The Minister welcomed the establishment of such a forum and foresees it playing a role in the Wi-Fi-revolution, which will benefit many South Africans but especially those within South Africa’s rural areas and the small and medium size enterprises.
The Forum’s vision is the establishment of widespread coverage through 5 million hotspots at a speed of 100MB per second. This is considered to be a realistic goal as the players in the industry are all doing their part; an example being The City of Johannesburg, which has set itself a target of creating 1000 hotspots in Johannesburg’s underserviced areas, by 2016. The industry is united in fixing the market failure we currently stand faced with.
The issue of self-regulation within the industry also received a significant amount of attention during the discussions that took place. This has been established to be the desired model under which the industry should operate but there are however a few conditions that have to be met for a self-regulatory environment to be successful. These include,
- The willingness to share infrastructure masts and power.
- An environment consisting of a small number of players with large coverage.
- The market needs to be a competitive one with no barriers to entry and no dominant players, in terms of market share.
- A set of incentives needs to be in existence where they will make market players aware that acting ethically is in the best interest of everyone.
The establishment of such a model will not only prove to be beneficial to all stakeholders in the industry but it will also prompt better relations between the private sector and government.
The Metis 20202 session sparked a need for self-introspection when it comes to mobile network standards for South Africa. In order to accurately ascertain our standing, it is vital to look at the direction in which the global ICT industry is going in. It is moving at incredible speeds with a number of groups working on changes since we emerged from the 3rd generations. These groups include; 3GPP, NFC and the Bluetooth Forum. It was mentioned, during this session, that although South Africa does possess the capability and capacity to have 5G, it continues to provide 2G to many in the rural areas. This presents a big problem considering the fact that there is no longer a business case for deploying 4G, nor are there any prospective returns on the investment. The question then remains, how do we keep abreast the latest technology developments without lagging behind again?
The inaugural Wi-Fi Forum SA conference proved to be a success as it created a platform where important discussions took place in improving the business model of this industry. We look forward to the many other discussions that will take place on this platform.