WiMAX Is Fine, But Customers Want Choice

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK Several information technology experts, who asked to remain unnamed, have pointed out that an article that recently appeared in New Era in some respects missed the point regarding deploying WiMAX technology. They emphatically state that although it is true WiMAX is a relatively new technology there is no question about its technical viability. The real obstacle to deploying WiMAX, they point out, is not technical difficulty but the cost of international bandwidth they purchase from Telecom Namibia. Apart from that, industry sources say ISPs do not feel it is fair they should be limited to WiMAX only, because they feel their clients want choice. Their customers want both analogue and ISDN dial-up, WiMAX leased-line, and ADSL at competitive prices or even a combination of two or more of these services simultaneously. The problem with WiMAX in Namibia is the technology’s continued reliance on Telecom Namibia’s backbone infrastructure. Claims made in some quarters that WiMAX would completely free M-Web from dependence on Telecom Namibia turn out to be something of a red herring. Most service providers have to go through Telecom Namibia to connect to the international data gateway, at quite considerable cost. Experts have always pointed out that the international component of bandwidth is by far the most expensive portion of bandwidth cost. The problem is however aggravated, they add, when Telecom Namibia resells the bandwidth at highly inflated and uncompetitive prices “There are no real serious technical issues with WiMAX. The real issue is the cost of international bandwidth, which can only be obtained through Telecom Namibia,” one source said. South Africa buys ADSL from Telkom SA at wholesale price, making it possible to resell it to consumers at realistic prices. The only feasible – but not entirely satisfactory – option that will allow ISPs to by-pass Telecom Namibia is for the Namibia Communications Commission to grant them V-Sat licences. Presently only mobile phone company MTC holds a V-Sat licence, although indications are M-Web is applying for one. Analysts, however, point out that a fibre-optic link is by far the fastest and most secure data link currently available. With a V-Sat license, ISPs will be able to bring in international bandwidth cheaper and pass it on to consumers at cheaper prices. ISPs are confident that if the NCC grants them V-Sat licences they will be able to bring broadband services even to the northern regions. In advanced countries in Europe and North America and in most developed Asian countries, the Internet backbone is a publicly owned facility and access to it is free of charge. Most experts agree that this is what has made the explosive growth of information technology in these countries possible. A joint effort by the Department of Defence and NASA led to the creation of the Internet backbone in the United States. In southern African countries, and most other underdeveloped countries, consumers have to deal with a public utility trying to extort money at every turn. Analysts say this goes some way towards explaining the much talked about digital divide, and why countries such as Namibia continue to remain in the Internet “stone age”. As one industry source pointed out, this is despite that as taxpayers the Namibian public paid for the entire Telecom Namibia infrastructure anyway. Something few people know is that Nampower is in a position to provide better and faster data and telecommunications services than Telecom, even to remote rural towns. There is a fibre-optic link built into all of Nampower’s high-tension power cables that run to virtually every corner of the country. In collaboration with Eskom in South Africa, it could probably provide an alternative route to the international data gateway at Cape Town, almost immediately. The law as it currently stands, however, prohibits Nampower from providing telecommunications services. Although there are no serious technical obstacles to establishing WiMAX services, WiMAX is inherently a more expensive technology. The cost of installing WiMAX Customer Premises Equipment (CPEs) at every home and business ranges from US$400 to US$3 000, while ADSL customers only pay an installation fee of N$620. One industry source estimates that for an ISP to sell WiMAX services at comparable prices to ADSL it would take 42 months to reach breakeven point on each customer. The one advantage of WiMAX to the consumer is that they will face no additional telephone costs at the end of the month. The ISPs however have to contend with that it is more expensive for them to provide broadband service at the coast, or other towns located far from Windhoek such as Oshakati and Ondangwa. This is due to the cost of “backhauling” bandwidth, meaning reconnecting to the Internet via Windhoek using Telecom’s rather pricey infrastructure. One industry source estimated that backhaul from the coast could cost a large ISP as much as close the N$30 000 a month in fees to Telecom.