Highlights from South Africa's 12th Annual ICT Summit

The 12th Annual ICT Summit, a conference that brought together over 400 ICT executives and featured 20 influential speakers, took place on 21-23 November in East London in the Eastern Cape, with Convergence Partners as the main sponsor.

The conference attendees included CEOs, Managing Directors, CFO’s, CIO’s and Executives from leading information communications and Technology companies around the province and the country.

The three-day conference was built around generating business development opportunities, bringing industry players together to discuss topical ICT issues, trends and innovative ideas.

Issues discussed included how to develop South Africa's ICT field on a public and private sector scale, with discussions taking place between government and the private sector. Also on the agenda was the need to create a network of professionals to engage freely and strategically about new developments in the industry.

The choice of the Eastern Cape as the location for the conference was attributed to the fact that the province is the least performing in GDP output, education and as expected, in technology compared to the rest of South Africa, and one of the discussions revolved around how the province can catch up with the rest of the country.

Andile Ngcaba Convergence Partners
Dr. Andile Ngcaba, Chairman and Founding Partner of Convergence Partners

Dr. Andile Ngcaba, Chairman and founding partner of Convergence Partners, began the conference by discussing 5th generation (5G) wireless broadband and the South African National Integrated ICT Whitepaper, which was released on the 28th of September this year.

We Need New Laws And Policies

Ngcaba began by describing the history of South African telecommunications, which was built around voice communication via fixed lines and mobile.

The laws and policies set up in 1994 were strictly structured around this environment. As technology advanced and the focus shifted to data, the cost of keeping the legacy systems online could no longer be justified, therefore the policies needed to be changed.

Second generation (2G) was introduced, followed by third generation (3G) which was primarily for voice, with data being a secondary consideration.

Data became the primary focus of newer infrastructure - the Fourth generation (4G) and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technologies were optimized for this.

"Laws & policies were written for voice & can't be used when we want to connect everything to the Internet"Dr. Andile Ngcaba, Chairman and Founding Partner of Convergence Partners

Each generation is better than the last. 5G, which is still in the research and development phase, is said to execute downloads in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.

The focus of 5G is likely to be the internet of things, where devices communicate with each other, which will change how we interact with them. For example, having your phone connected to your television, your garage gate and to your car means that your devices know where you are, and you can interact with all of them remotely.

This raises some interesting challenges and possibilities, as Ngcaba explained. These technologies, he added, should be described as a platform and not a network. While a network only carries information from one point to another and limits what a user can do with it, a platform can be seen as a marketplace that adapts to what the consumer needs, using network infrastructure to allow for open access and further innovation.

The availability of such a platform has the ability to transform the way consumers interact with the internet. With faster internet connections, we are likely to see higher market activity, increased uptake of cloud services, and an explosion in content, particularly video.

In light of the above, Ngcaba states that the same laws written 22 years ago cannot be used for the 5G platform.

South Africa will then need to prepare for this in order to avoid being left behind as the world evolves to a highly digital economy.

Is South Africa Ready?

One may question whether Africa is ready for 5G, especially considering the investment needed to make it a reality.

Kevin Viret Yahsat
Kevin Viret, YahSat

Kevin Viret of Yahsat, an Abu Dhabi-based satellite operator, started the discussion by highlighting that at the moment 52% of the population in South Africa has access to the internet with a broadband penetration of 27%.

Furthermore, the movement of South Africans from rural to urban areas has increased the pressure on the market to build more infrastructure to facilitate the increased demand for broadband.

While broadband usage may appear low, it is clear that there is a growing demand, especially as phones grow ever faster, and data becomes cheaper.

Response from mobile operators to the whitepaper has been characteristically hostile, with MTN South Africa CEO Mteto Nyati commenting some of the provisions of the whitepaper, including the wholesale open access network (WOAN), are a threat to South Africa's telecommunications sector.

In order to understand this response, it is essential to unpack the threats that the operators are seeing. The disruption potential of the new technologies that 5G presents, such as the SA Connect project, could upend the market, breaking up big operators, and opening up the market to smaller, more nimble players.

The challenge for MTN, South Africa's second-largest mobile operator with a third of the market share, is in innovating beyond its comfort zone, providing customers what they may need in the future in addition to giving them what they're asking for right now.

Businesses need to change with the market in order to keep their clients happy. Not doing so may lead to failure as seen in other industries and with companies such as KODAK and Blockbuster who have since closed down due to failure to adapt.


L-R: Tefo Mohapi, CEO of iAfrikan; Dr. Andile Ngcaba, Founding Partner and Chairman of Convergence Partners; Brian Herlihy, Founder of SEACOM and CEO of Black Rhino Group

Furthermore, Brian Herlihy, Founder and CEO of Black Rhino believes that some parts of Africa have not utilised technology to its full potential, and because of that, it hasn’t alleviated the continent's problems as expected.

He accounts this to the fact that not all parts of Africa have access to a reliable electricity. A stable energy source needs to be established in order to properly introduce technology and integrate it into the lives of Africans.

What's clear is that the correct infrastructure and support from government is necessary in order to improve the state of ICT in South Africa, and indeed in the rest of Africa. Government and private sector players will need to work together and the relevant regulations need to be put in place to ensure that the goals put forward in the whitepaper can be fully actualized.

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