By Ross Griffiths, Product Manager at Nology
The recent data outages at international company Research in Motion (RIM), which left Blackberry users across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, Brazil, Chile and Argentina without connectivity for days on end and sparked outrage from these users on social media platforms, only serve to highlight how dependent the modern world has become on stable Internet connectivity, particularly through previously non-traditional channels such as smartphones.
The fact is that in today’s world, we cannot function without Internet connectivity. In the business environment, we are increasingly seeing a move to online and cloud services, with connectivity allowing access to company networks, documents and files, all of which in the past were housed internally. Without an Internet connection, employees working from home or the mobile workforce would be unable to access any of these features, rendering them unable to do their jobs.
Aside from the move into the cloud, both home and business users rely on connectivity in order to communicate, and new technology has taken the place of traditional communications. Users have become so used to being able to send emails and instant messages and even to make phone calls using Skype or VoIP technology that without these forms of online communication, businesses cease to function. Without connectivity we are truly lost, as communication is the heart of business, and without the Internet our main methods of modern communication are impossible.
Again as demonstrated by the RIM outages, connectivity is no longer a first world luxury, but something that users across emerging nations such as Africa, India and Latin America have come to depend on. In these countries connectivity is vital in order to maintain development and compete on a global stage and is often accomplished using mobile devices.
South Africa is no different, with many users relying on mobile connectivity to access the Internet, communicate and do business. In fact, recent Nielsen research shows that 29 million South Africans use cellphones, compared to only six million personal computer users, and mobile Internet usage is on the rise.
As a result of the prevalence of mobile phones and multiple issues with ADSL connectivity, South African network operators have made steady progress in the 3G space, pushing this connectivity to become more cost effective and usable to a larger proportion of the market. Recurrent theft of copper cabling, which leads to ADSL outages, has also driven hardware developers to innovate automatic failover devices which are able to switch seamlessly between ADSL and 3G connectivity. This failover is again made possible by the competitiveness of the 3G and mobile connectivity space.
The prevalence of 3G connectivity has also come about as a result of infrastructure challenges. Running copper or fibre connections and maintaining these has become difficult, time consuming and costly in South Africa. Driven by a larger user base, mobile connectivity has become infinitely more affordable, and it is now possible for users to run this as an affordable primary connection.
Connectivity is no longer deskbound thanks to the evolution of 3G, and is now accessible to larger numbers of South Africans than ever before through mobile devices, low cost notebooks and tablet PCs, opening up the Internet to the man on the street and increasing our dependence on connectivity still further.
This wireless trend is set to continue, as plans to roll out 3GPP Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks are set to be put into motion in 2012. Using similar principles to 3G but running off a separate wireless spectrum, LTE offers high speed data connectivity on a mobile network, delivering more than five times the speeds of the current networks. While licensing issues have held back this technology, it is currently being tested and hardware manufacturers are gearing up for the rollout with LTE-ready devices.
While predicting the future is difficult under any circumstances, particular in areas that change as fast as technology, in all probability we can expect to see existing connectivity trends continue, with faster speeds and increased bandwidth availability the order of the day. We can also expect service providers to begin taking advantage of increased speeds and availability by rolling out content such as video on demand and Internet TV, keeping pace with developments in first world countries.
One thing is certain however, Mobile/wireless telecommunication will play a major role in the future of South African connectivity. In a world where business relies on the Internet to function – our mobile operators are perfectly poised to take advantage of this growth.