2015 a big year for wireless in SA: Wapa

The South African Wireless Access Providers’ Association (Wapa) has put its head on the chopping block and offered a few predictions for what the local wireless industry should expect during 2015.

“Predictions are notoriously difficult,” Wapa said, adding that it had focused on the trends impacting the wireless industry.

Icasa will allocate and assign more spectrum

Beginning with a relatively bold prediction, Wapa said that Icasa will allocate and assign more wireless spectrum.

It steered clear of any predictions relating to International Mobile Telephony (IMT, or cellular) spectrum, but did say that it expects Icasa to assign the first mmWave frequencies before the end of the year.

“Wapa has long been advocating for more spectrum to be allocated and assigned, as has much of the rest of the wireless industry,” the association said.

It went on to highlight that Icasa’s Strategic Plan for 2015–2019 explicitly recognises the role of spectrum in facilitating universal access to broadband services at fair retail prices by 2020.

This plan sets out roadmaps, deliverables, and targets for both IMT spectrum and progress towards opportunistic spectrum management inclusive of such technologies as “white spaces” or “TVWS”, and cognitive radios.

Wapa said that it also welcomed the draft amendment to the spectrum licence fees as they pertain to mmWave spectrum.

More nationwide wireless brands will emerge

Wapa predicted that its members will continue to provide the only option for fixed broadband services in many rural areas because of the high cost of rolling out fixed-line technologies outside of cities and other densely populated areas.

It said that while some may compete head-on with smaller providers, many of these operators will partner with the local wireless Internet service providers through some form of reseller or local support arrangement.

Neutral host/open access will become more prevalent

Open access as a theme is appearing more and more commonly in policies emerging from the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, and is a central feature of South Africa Connect.

“It is also being embraced by certain elements of the telecommunications industry, starting on the fibre side,” Wapa said, adding that it expects to see the beginnings of a move towards open access in wireless and Wi-Fi in 2015.

Wapa conceded that the industry has yet to reach consensus on what it means for a wireless network to be provisioned for open access.

However, in general, “the concept describes an arrangement where multiple service providers share the same basic network infrastructure and compete in other ways such as pricing plans, customer service, and value-added services.”

Value-added services will hit mainstream

Wapa said it previously predicted that value-added services such as video on demand and location-triggered loyalty solutions over Wi-Fi would hit the market in 2014.

Larger operators continue to look for ways to deliver new revenue in a world where so-called over-the-top solutions such as Whatsapp, which plans to launch free calling in early 2015, challenge traditional revenue streams.

“MTN launched a streaming video service called FrontRow at the end of December 2014, and MWEB announced that DStv users will retain free access to the MWEB Wi-Fi network (which will shortly become a paid service), and will hopefully make use of streaming video while on the go,” Wapa said.

More and more operators are expected to begin to dabble with these sorts of services in an effort to differentiate themselves to residential consumers.

In the Wi-Fi space, larger providers may decide to focus on monetising the network through advertising or location-based services, and smaller providers will differentiate on value-adds.

Privacy and security will become top of mind

Wapa concluded its list of predictions with more of a wish:

“With everything from major U.S. retailers having their credit card data and customer databases pillaged, to the infamous Sony Pictures hack over the holidays, to the Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act that will begin to affect South African businesses in 2015 — there is no better time to design and build systems that have security and consumer privacy as core tenets rather than afterthoughts,” Wapa said.

It added this was especially relevant to public Internet access points such as Wi-Fi hotspots, where a combination of poor security, multiple devices, and consumers on the go could lead to some unfortunate consequences.

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2015 a big year for wireless in SA: Wapa