SA Connect targets speeds that are 10 times faster

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 23 Mar 2021

The basic connectivity speed for South Africa Connect (SA Connect), government’s ambitious broadband project, will shift from the current 10Mbps to 100Mbps.

This information came to light during the State IT Agency (SITA) executive caretaker Luvuyo Keyise’s presentation to Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Communications.

Keyise told the communications committee that the policy document for SA Connect has been revised to put in place “a basic minimum speed for connectivity of 100Mbps”, adding that the speed will be increased on the basis of available budget.

SA Connect, first announced in 2013, is the national broadband project identified by government to meet the technology goals of the National Development Plan of creating an inclusive information society.

In terms of the connectivity project, government aims to bridge broadband connectivity gaps and seeks to achieve the targets set out in the SA Connect policy.

Due to the magnitude of the project, government determined it should be implemented in two stages: phase one and phase two. In terms of phase one, the project aimed to connect schools, health facilities, government offices, Thusong Centres and post offices, in eight rural district municipalities, to broadband services.

Connectivity boost

When the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) was still known as the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, in 2017, it developed a new delivery model for SA Connect in collaboration with SITA and Broadband Infraco.

In terms of the second phase of SA Connect and connecting new sites, SITA head of corporate services Tlali Tlali told ITWeb the connectivity speeds will indeed be 100Mbps, but he wouldn’t provide specific timelines fromwhen this will be effective.

“Due to the National State of Disaster relating to COVID-19 and the changing economic landscape relating to immediate needs to combat the pandemic and its impact, budgets across government departments have been revised accordingly.

“This reallocation of funds has also affected the SA Connect programme, which influences the timelines associated with the planned rollout. Phase one is therefore effectively complete with the rollout of 970 sites at speeds of 10Mbps.

“As soon as the necessary budget is made available to enable the rollout of phase two of SA Connect, which is expected to be at 100Mbps, the timelines will be clarified.”

Despite a number of hiccups in implementing phase one of the project, the 970 government facilities that were targeted have been connected to broadband at speeds of 10Mbps, confirmed Tlali.

He revealed the 970 sites that are already connected will be upgraded to 100Mbps as part of the second phase of the project.

With 970 government sites connected, Tlali explains that the total balance of 5 165 sites will be provided with high-speed connectivity at 100Mbps, pending the confirmation of the budget in phase two of the rollout.

“Increases in connectivity speeds have been considered from the outset of the project. 10Mbps speeds were deemed appropriate for phase one of the project, with an increase to 100Mbps anticipated in phase two for both new and existing sites.

“The need for increased connection speeds is driven by the reliance on Internet-based services for daily work and other societal functions. The pandemic has accelerated the requirement for remote working to minimise the spread of COVID-19.”

Connectivity opportunities

Last September, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and the DCDT appointedBMIT to conduct a feasibility study for SA Connect phase two.

Last December, BMIT revealed the South African broadband market made significant gains in 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, predicting the trend will continue in 2021.

BMIT also said it expects the country’s second phase of its broadband project to take shape this year, stating: “In 2021, SA Connect phase two will move forward again, with detailed implementation planning.”

According to Tlali, SA, along with the rest of the world, has been catapulted by the pandemic into an environment that requires rapid digital transformation.

As a result, the digitalisation of government services needs to be realised as soon as possible, he states.

“The upgrade and rollout of 100Mbps connectivity will optimise the modernisation and digital transformation programmes for government. There has been a rapid increase in the number of users utilising online services for applications such as remote working, online learning and electronic healthcare, and a subsequent requirement for increased Internet connectivity speeds.

“The improvement in Internet connectivity speeds has become a necessity and therefore the requirement to expand the SA Connect infrastructure footprint countrywide is of paramount importance.

“The rollout of fibre – and equivalent technologies that provide high Internet connectivity speeds – will therefore be key to the upcoming iterations of broadband rollout,” concludes Tlali.