No substitute for true, licensed wireless connectivity
Many local businesses across South Africa are relying on unlicensed spectrum to power their business's connectivity needs.
For most of these business owners, there haven't historically been many alternatives. With poor fixed-line (ADSL and fibre) coverage in some regions, and no viable wireless solution, unlicensed wireless was often the only option.
But, in recent years, the wireless landscape has evolved significantly. New spectrum has been allocated, new operators have been licensed, new technology has emerged, and new networks have been established.
Comsol, for instance, has expanded its licensed network to cover over 200 metro areas, stretching out to over 13 000 square kilometres and counting.
Let's quickly recap the differences between unlicensed and licensed spectrum.
While all wireless technologies rely on the airwaves to transmit data, different technologies use different bands. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa has designated some bands of frequency to be unlicensed (which everyone is allowed to use), while other bands have been officially licensed for only certain players.
By regulating these frequencies, the regulator can ensure that licensed operators don't interfere with each other's signals, and are able to provide their users with guaranteed quality of service.
Licensed networks generally give businesses stronger, more resilient, connections. In Comsol's case, for instance, the Comsol Connect solution rivals fibre services in terms of overall performance.
If you're running mission-critical applications, customer engagement platforms, or embracing the advantages of cloud-based software, your network becomes the lifeblood of your business.
In these cases, it's absolutely essential to have firm guarantees on full duplex, symmetrical uplink and downlink speeds, latency, jitter, packet loss and other considerations. Any kind of downtime or service degradation can spell disaster for your business.
Unlicensed wireless networks, and even public mobile broadband services like LTE, may well be useful for certain tactical needs, but are unlikely to offer you the service assurance that modern businesses demand.
Interestingly, in many of the conversations we have with businesses, we find the misconception that unlicensed is cheaper than licensed.
Firstly, while the spectrum may be free to use, service providers will still levy fees on top of that. And secondly, consider that unlicensed equipment must do a lot of 'extra work' (to minimise noise levels and optimise throughput), meaning it's often a lot more expensive than licensed hardware.
Overall, there are normally negligible price differences between unlicensed and licensed services.
Importance of MEF 2.0
But, within the licensed realm, there are other nuances to note as you consider your network needs for the coming years, and as the exponential rise in data volumes continue to put pressure on your network.
By choosing a licensed wireless provider that is MEF 2.0 compliant, you gain a number of advantages:
* Assurance of high-quality infrastructure and equipment, at every point along the network, that is internationally-accredited and has passed stringent testing;
* Visibility into every aspect of your network (and not just downlink and uplink speeds), allowing you to see the levels of packet loss, latency and jitter, giving you a very comprehensive view of network performance; and
* Faster identification and resolution in the case of any faults or outages on the network, allowing you to get back up to speed as quickly as possible.
By belonging to established international telecoms bodies and conforming to standards like MEF 2.0, your service provider gets access to the very latest insights and technologies at a global level, allowing them to continue optimising your network.
It's also important to choose a network that is fully owned and managed by your service provider. For instance, in Comsol's case, it has a network that is designed, built and operated by its own team, supported by its 24/7 state-of-the-art Network Operations Centre, allowing Comsol to quickly resolve any issues.
So, maybe the debate shouldn't be about unlicensed versus licensed, but rather to focus on the advantages of 'true licensed connectivity', backed by global best-practices and standards and allowing you to design a scalable plan for your network's evolution.