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Next spectrum auction to unlock edge computing

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 05 Jul 2023

Next year’s anticipated release of additional high-demand radio frequency spectrum is expected to enable the robust and resilient network infrastructure required to support critical edge computing deployments across South Africa.

This is the word from local industry pundits, speaking to ITWeb about what the future holds for SA’s edge computing landscape.

While edge computing deployment is still in its nascent stage in SA, there is growing awareness and potential for growth – with several pilot projects and pockets of use cases being developed across the country.

While SA’s first International Mobile Telecommunications Radio Frequency Spectrum auction took place in March 2022, more spectrum is required for SA to tap into the full potential of the next-frontier technology, they say.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has announced a second auction for the spectrum is expected to take place in 2024.

According to experts, additional high-demand radio frequency spectrum will revolutionise several industries and drive business growth by providing a reliable service and improved customer experience, through enabling real-time analytics, cost-efficiency, reducing latency and improving security.

Glad Dibetso, CEO of Pan-African edge computing firm inq., believes this spectrum will provide a much-needed boost in operational efficiency, particularly for industries with high dependency on internet of things (IOT) deployments – through the added bandwidth and capacity to accommodate the growing number of IOT edge applications.

Industries that will benefit from edge deployments include the transportation and logistics sector, healthcare and telemedicine, as well as manufacturing and industrial automation.

“The release of additional spectrum can lead to increased bandwidth and improved connectivity, especially with the potential deployment of 5G technology – enabling faster data transmission between edge devices and centralised cloud or data centres,” notes Dibetso.

“With increased bandwidth, firms can leverage edge computing solutions more effectively, ensuring smooth and seamless data processing and analysis at the edge. Edge computing and IOT often go hand-in-hand, as edge computing facilitates local data processing and analysis for IOT-generated data.

“With more available spectrum, firms can deploy a larger number of IOT devices and enable data-intensive IOT applications without overwhelming the network.”

Glad Dibetso, inq. CEO.
Glad Dibetso, inq. CEO.

While SA has relatively well-developed telecoms infrastructure, including 4G networks, connectivity challenges persist in certain regions, especially rural areas, he adds.

“The transportation and logistics industry can greatly benefit from edge computing, particularly in areas such as fleet management, supply chain optimisation and intelligent transportation systems, while the manufacturing sector stands to gain substantial benefits by bringing computing power closer to the production lines and machinery,” states Dibetso.

Edge computing, billed as one of the most innovative aspects of modern networking, involves using technology to process data locally, as close to an organisation’s applications as possible, says Dimension Data.

According to inq., when observing the general edge landscape in SA, it is characterised by several pilot projects and experimental use cases to test its feasibility across different industries.

These initiatives aim to demonstrate the practical applications and advantages of edge computing in the South African context. Existing pilots include real-time monitoring and control of industrial processes, remote asset management, precision farming and intelligent traffic management, notes the company.

Lauren Wortmann, VP of applications and cloud at Dimension Data Southern Africa, says while edge is at the early stages of deployment across the globe, SA is lagging significantly behind its counterparts due to several issues that need to be addressed.

These include a volatile economic market, SA’s 15-year delay in releasing spectrum, and infrastructure limitations.

“One of the things that we’ve had to overcome in South Africa is delayed access to spectrum. Edge will be a powerful enabler across industries in SA. Most notable will be the ability to leverage actionable insights through the vast quantities of data that will be generated as more connected devices enter edge environments,” notes Wortmann.

Lauren Wortmann, VP of applications and cloud at Dimension Data.
Lauren Wortmann, VP of applications and cloud at Dimension Data.

One of the key benefits anticipated from SA’s next spectrum release is its ability to unlock private 5G-as-a-service (P5G) at the edge, for organisations, she adds.

“P5G at the edge is a major enabler for latency-sensitive, high-volume data collection for processing at enterprise edge. To ensure compatibility with global standards (where device and radio unit manufacturers are aligned), sufficient congruent band spectrum for P5G is required, to offer firms cost advantage and simplicity in deploying their IOT and fixed wireless access, use cases and applications.”

Nathi Dube, director of PBT Innovation at PBT Group, highlights how edge computing can turbo-charge online and offline shopping strategies for retailers.

“Edge computing is powering a move to self-service and autonomous stores. Retail apps can be enhanced to personalise the shopping experience while at the physical shop. For example, by recommending products to purchase based on customer shopping history. The app can also notify customers of items that are currently on promotion. This is opening new opportunities for the retail industry, and it can allow shops to operate 24/7,” explains Dube.

Dibetso cautions it's important to note the successful adoption of edge computing in SA requires not only sufficient spectrum, but also appropriate infrastructure, a skilled workforce and supportive regulatory frameworks.

Compliance with relevant data protection laws, and collaboration and shared infrastructure with telecoms ecosystem players, will have an important role in the success of edge deployments, he advises.

“Edge computing requires specialised skills and expertise in areas such as edge architecture design, deployment, security and management. Firms can invest in training programmes, workshops and certifications to develop the necessary skills in-house.

“For regulatory and compliance considerations, active engagement with regulatory bodies and industry associations can help firms stay informed about evolving regulatory requirements,” concludes Dibetso.

Nathi Dube, director of PBT Innovation at PBT Group.
Nathi Dube, director of PBT Innovation at PBT Group.