Our recent regional event at Polokwane on April 15, 2021, was one of our best attended. Wapa members came from several provinces to hear about the new regulatory changes in our sector, the impact of emerging satellite services, how to deal with the fibre challenge, how to cope with new threats in our unlicensed 5.8GHz spectrum, and TV white space opportunities.
We know WISPs face significant challenges now. You have to deal with new regulatory requirements that may have a marked effect on your businesses. You face a whole raft of competitor businesses and rival technologies. And your markets are changing very quickly.
The event was a great opportunity to acknowledge the challenges and start to unpack how they affect members,” says Paul Colmer, WAPA executive. “There’s been a lot of uncertainty, but the event was the perfect opportunity to look at the real impacts and what WAPA and our members can do about it.”
WAPA Members look at Regulatory
Government’s broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) and equity ownership requirements were not clear until recently. Colmer says there has been significant progress.
The 30% black ownership requirement on Individual Licence holders is on hold until discussions with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) are completed. When that will happen is not clear, but it appears likely they will be given due consideration. The 30% Historically Disadvantaged Group (HDG) requirement has always been in place on individual licences but only now are ICASA starting to enforce it.
Level 4 B-BBEE will be enforced on individual licences. Those with turnover below R10 million are automatically level 4. Those with turnover greater than R10 million have three years to comply. Government requires reports each year on how progress is tracking. Level 4 B-BBEE will be only be enforced on Class Licences on change, renewal or transfer. That means WISPs that have a Class Licence but a turnover less than R10m automatically achieve level 4 B-BBEE. Class Licence WISPs with a turnover greater than R10m will have three years to comply.
Starlink is pumping more satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) every couple of weeks and had 1 300 up as of March 2021. Other LEO satellite networks include OneWeb and Project Kuiper from Amazon.
WAPA sponsors and keynote speakers identified whether or not satellite is friend or foe and how WISPs might evolve to take advantage of the new opportunities while steering around the threats.
There is opportunity in on-the-ground installation, deployment and service support presence, even on the international services. Reseller opportunities may also exist into end-user customers, as well as using satellite for backhaul. It could be a less expensive and better quality alternative to fibre, depending on the subscription rates on each type of network in a given area.
The race to the bottom in terms of connectivity pricing has been exacerbated by some interesting developments in the fibre arena. It has, in the past two to three months, become a freefall,” says Colmer. “That’s having significant effects, so we unpacked that and looked at ways to deal with alternative business models since open access reseller margins are way too small and causing a bunfight.”
MTN has launched fibre-like services on Tarana Wireless equipment using 5.8GHz unlicensed for both business and residential users. Vodacom has been playing in this space for a while with business offerings but will extend these to include residential.
MTN has already made public its pricing on MyBroadband,” says Colmer. Some technologies in that space, he says, can offer unique challenges to WISP business models, which is why attendees of the event were so keen to understand how they can adapt as technologies and markets continue to evolve.
TV white space
The most recent TV white space (TVWS) trial in South Africa, run in conjunction with WAPA and a consortium, is nearing completion after two years>. Using a $1 million grant from the US Trade and Development Agency, the results are commercial viability, technical, planning and implementation models, as well as a national secondary geolocation database for dynamic channel allocation, developed and maintained by the CSIR, which went live on 1 April 2021.
The implementation models are guides on how to build the networks and make them commercially viable,” says Colmer. “And they’re only available to WAPA members. They will be made available via a secure portal on our website as soon as possible.”
He says TVWS is not a silver bullet for WISPs but rather a complementary solution that will help service providers cost-effectively deliver reliable connectivity into semi-rural and other areas where clutter would typically degrade signal.
Keep an eye on your inbox and our website for news of our next event in Nelspruit. Also, stay tuned for developments on our annual national event, WAPALOZA, which we hope to stage in September, Covid-19 notwithstanding. And please reach out to us if you want to know more about any of the topics we covered at the Polokwane regional event.