Ayanda Mdluli

A partnership between Neotel and smaller wireless internet providers is set to usher in a new era of connectivity in South Africa.

Looking beyond urban areas and thriving metropoles, wireless access providers are targeting schools, municipalities and communities in rural areas that may have limited access to the internet, which is often taken for granted in cities.

Business Report spoke to Angus Hay, Neotel’s general manager, who revealed that the new birth of connectivity would tell a story of hidden secrets when it came to smaller players trying to establish themselves by bringing connectivity to the underdeveloped regions of the country.

According to Hay, smaller players belonging to the Wireless Access Providers Association (Wapa) were looking beyond the already well-connected urban areas, presenting opportunities for Neotel to assist in bringing broadband infrastructure to areas outside the main cities.

He said the partnership gave Neotel access to Wapa resources and members that relied on telecommunications services to do business.

The entities will work together to advance strategic partnerships between larger and smaller companies in order to extend the reach of quality products and services to communities in under-serviced areas, and to explore the development of new products and services that address the opportunities and challenges specific to those areas.

Historically, Telkom has been the main monopoly when it came to delivering broadband in South Africa. But with the entrance of new players the market saw a substantial growth of fibre-optic networks and wireless networks in metros.

Many internet service providers (ISPs), businesses and end users in these outlying areas still rely on asymmetric digital subscriber line technology, or cellular services, which are not cost effective and are not suitable for larger bandwidth requirements, such as video conferencing or streaming media.

“Neotel’s capacity and fibre, together with the wireless infrastructure and local reach of Wapa members, can change this. There has been limited growth beyond the main centres, which left us with a substantial task to get infrastructure out across a country as big as South Africa at an affordable level,” Hay said.

This meant that wireless ISPs had to be creative and invest in using lower cost effective tools and high spec technologies to make inroads into their respective markets.

“This makes the work done by wireless ISPs the best kept secret in South Africa… the synergy is looking very good,” he claimed.

The main challenge is changing the way people think about broadband as something that is not just about people, but about places, while taking into account the various income levels of the markets that the company and its smaller partners will target.

“The aim is to use broadband to make a difference in the lives of people in the communities where we will provide a service.”

Although Hay maintained that he could not yet reveal the amount of money being ploughed into penetrating markets outside the major cities, he did reveal that the projects would ensure dramatic changes for small businesses operating outside the metropoles.