Unless SADC countries increase access to the internet and reliable broadband for their citizens, it will be difficult for the region to embrace the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution.
This is one of the issues being discussed at a meeting of Ministers of Communications and ICT underway in Durban.
Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo is leading a South African delegation to the four-day high level meeting taking place at Zimbali Resort, north of the city. A packed agenda for the meeting will see delegates discuss a whole range of technical issues ranging from the region’s ICT priorities, SADC ICT policy, ICT infrastructure development, as well as migration to digital broadcasting. The meeting is being held under the theme “Preparing SADC for the Fourth Industrial Revolution through ICTs”.
During the first two days of the meeting, there was consensus among senior SADC government officials that there is a need to set up an expert group that will include academia and civil society groups to advise SADC Ministers on how best to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The expert group would prepare reports and recommendations to be considered by Ministers by the end of the meeting. SADC consists of 15 member-states and following the Heads of State Summit in Tshwane last month, South Africa took over chairmanship of the regional body for the next year.
Delegates at the Durban meeting also want to fast-track solutions around roaming by moving towards the same tariff level within the region. The argument is that SADC’s regional integration will remain a pipe dream if the region’s people are not connected. SADC’s individual countries migration from analogue to digital broadcasting will also come under sharp focus at the meeting.
The switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting will free up an extraordinary amount of spectrum, as a result of the better transmission efficiency of digital technology, said Chief Executive Officer of SENTEC Mlamli Booi.
“The basic foundation for any revolution in technology is connectivity. The Fourth Industrial Revolution can only succeed if there is maximum connectivity within South Africa and the region. Our role as SENTEC is to assist governments to be able to achieve connectivity in terms of broadband and digital migration,” said Booi.
The International Telecommunications Union agreed on the switchover date of June 2015 in order to allow countries adequate time to address any challenges relating to the roll out of the digital broadcasting services.
The high cost of data has been one of the issues that South Africa has been battling with and some delegates at the Durban meeting argue that unless data costs come down significantly, it will be difficult to achieve universal access to the internet. Last year, Minister of Telecommunication and Postal Services, Siyabonga Cwele, issued a policy directive to ICASA to prioritise the commencement and conclusion of an inquiry and the prescription of regulations to ensure effective competition in broadband markets.
Government plans to connect 22 million South Africans to the internet by 2020 and already policy discussions to realise this target are underway.
Known as ‘Internet for All’, the initiative is a partnership between the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, the private sector and the World Economic Forum. The project, which is aligned to the National Development Plan, will address the barriers that prevent universal internet access.
An Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s report shows that 3G coverage reaches about 99% and 4G rising to approximately 75% of the population.
Booi believes that the spectrum that would be freed as a result of migration to digital broadcasting will allow mobile operators to expand the data capability and this will allow operators space to provide cheaper data.
“I believe when capacity has been increased as a result of the freeing of the spectrum, the mobile operators should be in a better position to reach out to more consumers and that will in effect reduce the cost of data.” – SAnews.gov.za