FIFA World Cup 2010 Kick-Off: Is South Africa (and Mobile Operators) Prepared?

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: Andrew Gavin | Filed under: Around the World | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

With only a few days left until the FIFA World Cup kicks off, it feels as though the world is watching my home country, South Africa.

While the flow of news is increasingly focused on football (or soccer) itself rather than the preparations (thankfully!), there is still that nagging (even if unasked) question at the back of most peoples’ minds of whether South Africa can successfully host the single greatest sporting event on earth.

This is not only a doubt expressed by foreigners, but also South Africans who have endured seemingly endless infrastructure projects in preparation—road upgrades (and the resultant traffic jams), airport renovations (and waiting to board your plane from a temporary draughty tent structure), stadium and hotel building sites (noise pollution and more traffic jams)…and even shattered house windows from ‘over-eager’ blasting for the high-speed rail link in Johannesburg!

But now, most of these are completed, and over the past few weeks, South Africans have been getting increasingly excited.  Most roads have re-opened, the traffic jams caused by construction are now forgiven, travelers are thrilled with the new airport facilities, and talk-show radio stations have been inundated with calls from self-confessed naysayers who are now ‘believers’.

Of course, the recent (surprise) show of form by South Africa’s own team (Bafanna Bafanna) culminating in the ‘friendly’ win over Denmark the other day has only helped to raise the sense of excitement that South Africans themselves may actually have something to cheer about.  Even my grumpy and cynical old father-in-law bought my four year old son South African flag face paint after that victory.

Now, we have to convince the world.  The majority of spectators will not experience the World Cup first hand but rather via the media and conversations with friends there.

That brings me to one bit of infrastructure where the investment has been almost ‘invisible’ and not affected me personally at all—and that is telecoms.  Of course, the communications infrastructure dedicated to supporting the organizers and media is unlikely to have any direct impact on me or the majority of visitors now—but the mobile networks will be a different story, as these will be inundated by visitors using their mobiles to ‘stay in touch’.

Visitors calling families at home, sneaking a look at work emails, looking up directions to the hotel, updating their Facebook status (‘At WC Final’)…  For many visitors in an increasingly ‘online-addicted world’, some of the experience will be defined by them having (or not) continuous and seamless Internet access on their mobiles.  One thing for sure is that the demands placed on the mobile data networks will never have been as high at previous football World Cups.

Will they cope?  Only time will tell.  The real impact of the investment on mobile networks will only become evident once the games begin.  And, one only hopes that the impact will live on where I, the consumer, can benefit from the supposedly extra capacity following the World Cup, with reduced prices and better service.  Then the question for the operators, once the visitors have gone home, will not be so much how to manage the demands on their data networks, but how to maximize and recoup their investments in that capacity.  Here’s looking forward to the kick-off—and excess network capacity after the World Cup.

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