Data connectivity is quickly becoming a basic human right.
One thing the pandemic taught me is that my home WiFi network wasn't ready for the work and school from home economy.
They call it Supersonic AirFibre. The technology is truly fascinating and dynamically adjusts between LTE, 2G and unlicensed spectrum to deliver a fibre-quality experience. MTN’s marketing is quite a trip that overcomplicates the simple message of reliable internet without having to dig up your garden.
The technology comes from a US company called Tarana and they push it as the world’s lowest-cost gigabit broadband system. I live in an area that doesn’t have fibre access and am at the mercy of LTE for faster than ADSL speeds. AirFibre is a very compelling product.
I shouldn’t be the target consumer, though.
Cisco estimated that the average South African internet user generated 6,1GB of internet traffic per month in 2016 and predicts a growth to 16,1GB per month in 2021. That same trend report estimates that around two percent of internet connected households will generate more than 500GB of internet traffic per month this year.
My own lockdown experience saw internet usage swell from a monthly average of 220GB to tipping the scales in terabyte territory. That 220GB was crucial to staying within the bounds of Telkom’s draconian fair usage policy (FUP) on the ADSL line. When the corporate world flocked to Zoom, however, the 1mbps uplink was insufficient to meet our productivity needs.
While the fibre to the home network has blossomed beautifully across suburban South Africa, there are millions who have inadequate access to data connectivity to truly take part in the digital economy.
Mobile network operators claim that Icasa’s near criminal crawl to the upcoming spectrum auction has stunted growth. This is fact given the deficit between spectrum allocation among major network operators in other countries and here in our own where the re-farming of older bands is required to cope with demand.
But now that the auction is set for the end of March, the operators are still not entirely happy. Telkom, for instance, argues that Icasa hasn’t done its homework and is auctioning off bands that aren’t ready for deployment.
See, the auction works in different tiers and there are restrictions for certain players and then also mandatory bids to gain access to the rest of the process. Icasa is making available some of the frequency bands used for analogue TV that isn’t yet relevant for mobile data communications. It’s a long-term bet that Telkom isn’t willing to take right now as it tries to compete with the big players.
MTN sits on the other side of the debate with its own legal arguments calling into question the exclusion of Tier 1 operators from a bid round which includes 5G spectrum. This will give smaller players a hugely competitive edge, which Icasa argues will promote competition on the basis of the smaller guys also having to undercut on pricing.
The most fascinating development in this spectrum auction as it relates to breaking down barriers to data connectivity is the mandatory 30 percent procurement from the Wireless Open Access Network (Woan).
In short: it’s a data allocation for wholesale purchase by new entrants. The rules state 70 percent South African owned, makes concessions for women participants and seeks to promote access to data connectivity in disadvantaged communities. For all the things Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams has done wrong, her commitment to getting Woan off the ground is commendable.
My read: We’re definitely in for a wild ride as network operators put the newly acquired capacity to work. MTN and Vodacom have been busy selling off towers and other assets to raise the required funding for the auction.
Billions of will be spent on upgrading what is some of the best and most reliable data connectivity on the continent, but how will it benefit the average internet user who is now suddenly responsible for provisioning access to school and work infrastructure?
The biggest loser in this pandemic has been the parents who still need to pay school fees as well as increase their home internet spend to maintain access to the service that they’re paying a premium for. On the work from home side it’s a similar situation with companies benefitting from reduced networking spend because there’s no-one at the office, but employees adding to their data bills in a bid to remain productive.
In my situation the internet options are limited by network coverage. I can choose between Rain and Telkom for uncapped wireless LTE. That’s it. Well, Vodacom is an option, but the pricing is far above what I can afford.
It’s a privilege to have reliable internet in this country, but the pandemic has proven that humanity needs to get more people connected to the internet if society has any hope of rebuilding.
Something you should know about:
Apple CEO Tim Cook is done with playing nice around on-device privacy. The idea he presents is a return to older forms of advertising that don’t rely so heavily on personal information for targeting. This, of course, is an existential threat to a company like Facebook that is built on adapting your experience to encourage engagement with its platforms.
Facebook is so mad that Apple is equipping its users with the knowledge of what information the services are extracting from them that the social media giant is going to court. On the one hand I really support Apple here because even though I see it as more of a marketing play, I believe the consumer ultimately wins.
Apple wants to sell you high quality products at premium prices. Facebook wants to be your online portal to the real world. A world without Facebook (Instagram and WhatsApp included) would limit many people’s marketing abilities for their businesses. A world without Apple leaves the technology industry poorer because Apple is like that rich friend who opens up your palate to new experiences.
News also just broke of Google considering getting in on the anti-tracking game for Android devices. If Facebook was mad before, they’ll be spitting now.
The game is still very much in play, so a winner cannot be chosen, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
A number that may only interest me:
The generation of mobile data connectivity technology that you’ve heard so much about over the last two years. I have the iPhone 12 Mini on test and one of the main selling points is 5G connectivity, but in South Africa that is limited to MTN users. Like, there isn’t even an option to force 5G with my Vodacom SIM that has been provisioned for the service inside.
MTN CTIO Giovanni Chiarelli made a statement in December 2020 that I didn’t pay too much attention to because I don’t believe the world should function like this, but here we are.
“Through rigorous 5G testing with Apple, MTN is proud to announce that on launch the Apple iPhone 12 will be enabled for 5G on the MTN network. MTN’s 5G strategy has been years in the making and the success in the Apple tests confirms that MTN’s approach of building a strong foundation to grow and support its 5G ecosystem, has been time well-spent. We are now seeing the results of this investment and we are proud to be able to keep delivering exceptional and high-quality experiences for our customers.”
A quote that sounded profound at the time I heard/read it:
“The choices were him or a tree…” - Nebula
Context: In Avengers: Endgame Nebula from the present tells Gamora from the past about Peter Quill when they meet fighting Thanos. It also speaks to my limited internet service provider options with a choice between Rain and its latency issues and Telkom and its ludicrous 200GB FUP.