Telcos, providers move to support Africa's first World Cup

After glitches with online ticket sales and an increase in related cybercrime, Africa's first World Cup tournament has embraced several digital platforms, exceeding expectations.

For the last four years, South Africa's focus has been on development of stadiums and roads, along with related labor issues. But technical questions lingered, with concerns about whether mobile networks would be able to support the expected deluge of calls, text and multimedia messages as well as social media tools such as Twitter.

Intelsat, a provider of fixed satellites, has stepped in to offer global transmission services for the FIFA World Cup through nine satellites.

Intelsat is offering "platforms for encoding, multiplexing and compression in high definition and standard definition, teleport services and fiber circuits from South Africa to the Intelsat network inter-connect in London," according to it Web site.

"Telecommunications networks have provided the bandwidth for transmission, both wireline and wireless; metro, national and international submarine cables and satellite to broadcast globally," said Dobek Pater, senior telecoms analyst at Africa Analysis, based in Johannesburg.

South Africa is the most developed country in the continent in terms of technology and general communication infrastructure. The country's major telecoms networks -- MTN, Vodacom and Telkom South Africa -- have laid fiber in all the major stadiums, a move expected to benefit local communities.

"Telecommunications network like MTN and Vodacom have invested into new HSDPA (21.1Mbps) networks in the areas of the highest profile games, and have expanded their 3G reach and capacity, invested in new metro fibre optic networks to cater for the fans," added Pater.

Days before the kickoff on June 11th, there were fears that MTN, the tournament sponsor, would experience outages. MTN has reported significant increase in data usage driven by 3G/HSPA, especially during games involving South Africa.

According to a statement from MTN, subscriber-generated SMS volumes reached a total of 25 million between June 9 and 12, peaking at 6.46 million on June 11 at an average of 6.26 million SMSes sent over the four days. Subscriber-generated MMS volumes reached a total of 1.2 million over the four days, peaking at 344 253 on June 11 at an average of 307 278 MMS sent over the four days.

Among various Web-based services offering event services, U.K. video Web site WinkBall has engaged local citizen journalists to provide content for the Web site. The citizen reporters will be expected to talk to fans, businesses and visitors about the World Cup and their experiences.

However, mobile broadcasting remains a challenge because the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) did not award licenses on time and providers were unable to roll out services.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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