Uncapped high-speed internet access is not only possible, but profitable, at below R300 per month per household, according to licensed fixed wireless access provider Comsol.
The company announced that it had recently completed a successful 12-month proof of concept in KwaZulu-Natal.
Comsol CEO Iain Stevenson explained that this was possible by using standards-based Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), which used open, cloud-native platforms and mass market manufacturing to slash the costs of rolling out connectivity using licensed spectrum.
Standards-based FWA could help bridge the digital divide.
“Fibre is effectively connecting the higher LSM (living standard measure) segment of the market. While fibre is passing 4 million homes and 500 000 businesses, only around 1.7 million homes and 115 000 businesses are connected and serviced by fibre,” Stevenson said.
Using standards-based 4G/5G FWA, Comsol said it had connected a community of more than 300 homes at varying charges, depending on the solution, at a cost of less than R300 per month.
It said the proof of concept had demonstrated an effective return on investment of under 18 months for Comsol, while generating annuity revenue for a local Virtual Network Operator (VNO) and improving the lives of local businesses, education institutions and community members.
According to Stevenson, 90% of homes and businesses in the country are not connected by fibre.
“This is astounding, considering the quantum of investment invested by the fibre operators in rolling out fibre. Connectivity is a human right, and nobody should have sub-grade, capped connections. People need ‘all-you-can-consume', high-speed connections at price points that will trigger mass market adoption,” he said.
As Comsol is a pioneer in delivering cloud-native converged open core licensed spectrum FWA networks, Stevenson outlined the advantages of standards-based FWA at the recent Digital Africa Conext Conference 2022 in Cape Town.
He explained that fibre economics worked best in smaller, discrete geographies, where high target penetration rates assure returns on the high infrastructure cost. However, mainly mobile connections were used in areas bypassed by fibre, which was costly for the average South African.
“FWA can fill in the coverage gaps. Imagine that all the undersea cables connecting South Africa are the roots of the tree, the branches are the fibre and Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) are the leaves – that is the true power of FWA coverage,” Stevenson said.
He said with the emergence of standards-based FWA, with open platforms and mass market component production, the costs of FWA had dropped significantly.
The traditional way of deploying FWA was to use proprietary platforms, which added to the cost.
However, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), comprising hardware and software vendors, had agreed on industry standards which allowed for efficiencies, scale and more cost-effective deployments.
“By creating industry standards, TIP allows for improved efficiencies and scale for more cost-effective and faster deployment in under-served areas globally. TIP has changed the network architecture from traditional proprietary vendor deployments to standardised industry architectures,” he said.
Having previously focused on the enterprise space, Comsol said it was now looking at the residential market and lower LSM communities.
It said the KwaZulu-Natal proof of concept proved that standards-based licensed FWA was a cost-effective solution for communities.
“The pilot illustrated that the economics work, and we now plan to expand this model to other areas,” Stevenson said.
Comsol said it was in the process of adapting its enterprise VNO model for communities which would enable entrepreneurs to work with Comsol to roll out affordable, premium-quality access in under-served areas across South Africa.