Collaboration to ensure optimal use of ICT infrastructure

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“Some municipal networks have been built and have been duplicated in terms of the footprint that we built out. The City of Johannesburg, not the city themselves but through a provider, [built] a network that’s been closely duplicated to what we’ve built,” Reshaad Sha, chief strategy officer at Dark Fibre Africa (DFA), told CNBC Africa.

“It hasn’t changed the pricing in the market at all for fibre services in the city of Johannesburg. All you have is 3,000 kilometres from DFA plus another 900 from the city where that additional 900 kilometres of build could have extended to urban areas, rural areas.”

While the South African telecommunications landscape has improved significantly over the last twenty years, the duplication of infrastructure is one of several immense challenges facing the sector today.

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Jacques Du Toit, chief executive of Vox Telecom, echoed Sha’s sentiments, stating that it is the profit-chasing entities that are ‘keeping their cards close to them’.  

“There’s no cohesion between them and what the state wants to achieve. We are losing out on achieving some key milestones – we’ve missed out on LTE, we’ve missed out on local loop unbundling. Somebody needs to put their foot down and say, ‘Let’s achieve these milestones’,” he said.

“There is a lack of discipline and a lack of ownership. If you get told to do something, meet the deadline, deliver and move on – right now, you don’t deliver and nothing happens to you, and I believe the state needs to intervene there.”

Sha further stated that the duplication of fibre networks is also where the biggest amount of capital is wasted.

“The optimal use of the limited capital that we have in the market should be directed in a way that actually gets to a larger footprint as opposed to the duplication. Open access is a good principle that allows for a single network to be built and to be shared amongst service providers,” he explained.

“Sometimes individual service providers find a different way of doing it in justifying why they need to build a specific piece of network, so you are going to get some amount of duplication. But, when government duplicates together with the private sector, then you have absolute wastage.”  

With the need for connectivity growing at a rapid rate, Du Toit stated that Vox Telecom, which provides voice, data and collaboration services in the southern African market, has also embraced the open access environment.

“We don’t believe that what the mobile operators or the incumbents are doing is the best for South Africa. Open access – let’s put the infrastructure down and let the service providers share on that access. We will have quicker penetration and we will have cheaper penetration,” he stated.

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“Open access allows us to share the cost and in terms of duplicating that cost, we can actually expand the network. That’s what DFA does, they say, ‘Let’s put the network down, open it up to anybody so we can extend that network faster’.”

In addition, both Du Toit and Sha emphasised the need for a platform where the specific objectives of the ICT sector could be discussed and a solid plan put forward.

“I like the thought of an ICT CODESA, getting people around the table to say, ‘We have to influence the 2020 plan, we have GDP targets that we are going to miss if we don’t have connectivity underpinning what business needs to do and what the public sector needs to do,” Sha concluded.