WBS to spend billions on 4.5G network

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The WBS network will be deployed on some of its 400 base stations and will later be extended to an additional 10 000 sites.
The WBS network will be deployed on some of its 400 base stations and will later be extended to an additional 10 000 sites.

Multisource-owned Wireless Business Solutions (WBS) has announced a multibillion-rand investment, over the next five years, to build a new high-speed 4.5G national data network in South Africa.

The network will use WBS' existing spectrum assignments in the 1 800MHz and 2 600MHz bands for LTE Advanced Pro (LTE-A) or 4.5G connectivity. The company says this will be a precursor to 5G, which will enable WBS to be at the forefront of 5G adoption globally when it occurs.

"It will be enabled to use 5G when the technology is rolled out internationally inside the next five years and will place South Africa among the leaders in the field. A limited number of sites are already in operation and existing WBS customers will be converted to the new network ? with national rollout commencing in the next few months," it says in a statement.

The new network will be deployed on some of WBS' own 400 sites - and will later be extended to an additional 10 000 sites - as well as on sites leased from tower companies and other telecommunications providers. WBS says it has already concluded a transaction with Vodacom to lease some of its passive infrastructure as it expands the network.

WBS believes it has the advantage of not having to invest in legacy networks, such as 2G and 3G, and can jump straight to 4.5G technology. It says it has already conducted successful tests of the network.

WBS was last year acquired by network management company Multisource. Other shareholders and directors include FirstRand founder Paul Harris, MTN's ex-CTO Phumlani Moholi, former FNB CEO Michael Jordaan, technologist and entrepreneur Brandon Leigh, Design Indaba founding CEO Ravi Naidoo, and Multisource group CEO Duncan Simpson-Craib.

It has a 30% BEE shareholding which will be maintained after the planned capital raising. WBS has two subsidiaries, iBurst and Broadlink, which currently have about 400 base stations and related network infrastructure.

"The network will provide super-fast broadband to consumers and businesses alike. It will be superior to copper/ADSL offerings and an attractive alternative to fibre to the home (FTTH)," the group says.

"Speed and performance will be comparable to fibre, with the advantages that it can be deployed without the cost of digging up suburban streets and time delay in eventually reaching all residential areas. Once the network is rolled out, WBS will be able to offer mobile broadband on smartphones, tablets and other devices supporting the Internet of things. In the foreseeable future, the majority of voice calls will be carried on data networks, thereby effectively providing consumers with a combined data and voice offering."

Economic boost

WBS chairman Paul Harris says the company is investing in one of the most crucial areas for competitiveness of the South African economy. He says South Africa needs investment in productive capacity in order to tackle its economic challenges, including employment, poverty and inequality.

"Nothing can be gained by sitting on the side-lines. WBS' investment is a manifestation of its confidence in South Africa and its desire to contribute," he says.

This following a recent statement by finance minister Pravin Gordhan that the economy needed an investment of 30% of GDP to achieve the growth stated in the National Development Plan.

Harris says WBS' announcement "should hearten policymakers, telecom regulators and consumers alike".

"There is empirical evidence of a direct correlation between access to fast Internet and GDP growth, and therefore employment. Data from a recent World Bank study showed that in developing markets, an expansion of broadband access (population penetration) of 10 percentage points can result in expansion of GDP by 1.4%," he adds.

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