In what is considered to be a major fillip for the South African economy, veteran banker and Chairman of Wireless Business Solutions (WBS), Paul Harris, announced a multi-billion Rand investment in a new high speed LTE-A national data network.

Following on a recent statement by Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan that the economy needed an investment of 30% of GDP to achieve the growth stated in the National Development Plan (investment is currently at 20% of GDP), the announcement should hearten policymakers, telecom regulators and consumers alike. There is empirical evidence of a direct correlation between access to fast internet and GDP growth, and therefore employment. Data from a recent World Bank study showed that in developing markets, an expansion of broadband access (population penetration) of ten percentage points can result in expansion of GDP by 1.4%.

Mr. Harris said that what South Africa needed was investment in productive capacity in order to tackle our economic challenges. “Nothing can be gained by sitting on the sidelines. WBS’ investment is a manifestation of its confidence in South Africa and its desire to contribute” he added. He noted that WBS was investing in one of the most crucial areas for competitiveness of the economy, and the multiplier effect of broadband is a transformative in economic growth and therefore in meeting our challenges of employment, poverty and inequality.

The network will use WBS’ existing spectrum assignments in the 1800 and 2600 Mhz bands. It will be enabled to use 5G when the technology is rolled out internationally inside the next 5 years and will place South Africa amongst the leaders in the field. A limited number of sites are already in operation and existing WBS customers will be converted to the new network – with national rollout commencing in the next few months.

The network will provide super fast broadband to consumers and businesses alike. It will be superior to copper/ADSL offerings and an attractive alternative to fibre to the home ( FTTH ). Speed and performance will be comparable to fibre with the advantages that it can be deployed without the cost of digging up suburban streets and time delay in eventually reaching all residential areas. Once the network is rolled out WBS will be able to offer mobile broadband on smartphones, tablets and other devices supporting the Internet of Things. In the foreseeable future the majority of voice calls will be carried on data networks thereby effectively providing consumers with a combined data and voice offering.

WBS has the advantage of not having to invest in legacy networks such as 2G and 3G and will consequently deploy cutting edge technology referred to as LTE-A PRO or 4.5G. The new network will be deployed on some of WBS’ own 400 sites and sites leased from tower companies and other telecommunications providers.

WBS was recently acquired by the network management company Multisource. Other shareholders and directors include Phumlani Moholi, the ex CTO of MTN and Brandon Leigh of Multisource, Ravi Naidoo, the founding CEO of Design Indaba, Michael Jordaan ex CEO of FNB and Duncan Simpson-Craib, the Multisource Group CEO. It has a 30% BEE shareholding which will be maintained after the planned capital raising.

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