In my opinion – by Gary Woolley, CCO of wireless connectivity specialist Comsol

Choosing a wireless service provider isn’t that complicated. You want guaranteed uptime, speed and penetration, so you’re likely to choose a company whose name you recognise or that is at least recommended by a professional colleague. You’ll want them to have experience and a good reputation. You need to know that they’re technically competent and have a good service record. Once you’ve lined all that up you’re good to go, right? Wrong.

Some of South Africa’s best known and most vocal wireless providers could themselves be the biggest threat to your network because they don’t have their own legal licensed spectrum or don’t use a connectivity specialist which provides legal licensed spectrum. Without this, they actually have no control over the service they’re offering. When your network goes down, the unreliability of illegal wireless spectrum is usually to blame… and it is the one reason your connectivity provider won’t admit to.

Even when a connectivity specialist claims a dedicated delivery network or unwavering stability, you should ask to see their licensed spectrum certificate. If they don’t have one, does their wireless connectivity provider have one? Without it, they’re putting you at risk. Misusing spectrum means they could be shut down in a flash, or that they could be so heavily fined they couldn’t continue in business. As an IT Manager or CIO, you need to be careful of risking everything on the potential shutdown of a supplier, even if your supplier is a big, well-known company.

Having said that, unlicensed solutions which use freeband spectrum and can be deployed by anyone with an IECS and IECNS licence , do have a place in the mix. They are useful in small remote locations where more sophisticated options don’t exist, where budgets are limited, and where the required capacity is not very high. We sometimes build licensed backbones for our wireless internet service providers who then use freeband spectrum for their clients. However, because freeband is inherently unstable, this is not a solution for clients with mission critical networks. It should always be a choice the IT Manager or CIO knowingly makes, not one which is unknowingly thrust upon them.

Here’s the thing: because any number of connectivity providers are competing for the same freeband spectrum at any time, there is always lots of noise and activity on freeband lines. This is why your internet connection comes and goes and why your network slows down and then speeds up again. This does wireless a disservice, sometimes giving it a bad reputation when it is, in fact, an excellent option when properly managed.

And here’s another thing: there is no reason for every wireless connectivity provider in South Africa not to have their own legally licensed spectrum. All they need do is apply to the regulator (ICASA) and then wait to be granted their license. In our opinion, if you’re a wireless connectivity specialist and you’re serious about your business and serious about your clients, what’s your excuse for not having licensed spectrum?

Yes there are aspects of fibre which are very appealing such as its capacity but, as so many South African companies know only too well, it’s taking a long time to get here and it’s a cumbersome option that requires considerable physical disruption.

It’s important to understand that fibre doesn’t need to be your whole solution. Wireless can be deployed so much faster and, from a commercial point of view, the higher the capacity, the cheaper it is. We often deploy the last mile for customers, making that the wireless portion of their connectivity whilst using what fibre is available for the backbone. In this way we create wireless managed circuits that run over licensed spectrum and can be fibre-equivalent solutions. But we would never risk any of our client’s networks by surreptitiously providing them with an illegal wireless solution.