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By 26 January 2018 | Categories: interviews

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In part 2 of an indepth interview with Ruckus on digital transformation, Nick Watson, the vice president of EMEA unpacks the state of connectivity in South Africa, what needs to be done, and the top trend for the year ahead.

RN: With data, and access to it, being so important to the digital economy, where does South Africa stand?

NW: Almost no country has the luxury to say that they have enough infrastructure to provide for the exponential growth of digitalisation, interconnectedness and interdependency of technology and people. I do, however, think South Africa is moving in the right direction but we are not there yet.

There is still much to be done to ensure connectivity penetration is increased, and done so at an affordable rate. The current telco based solutions are not working and, coupled with regulation, there is still much work ahead if we are to truly move forward in terms of digitalisation and connectivity.

However, the trends are really clear – there are eight times as many devices around the world connecting to Wi-Fi as opposed to cellular/mobile data. There is considerable connectivity between people to devices and now devices to devices. However, in order to truly realise this potential, South Africa’s infrastructure has to be considered as a utility, and an important one at that.

There are very few things preventing Africa from connecting. If we look at the likes of Nigeria for example, with its partnership with Facebook to push access in education and small businesses by purely by lowering the costs, it really points to the possibilities – something that can easily be replicated in South Africa with the right partnership and openness.

RN: To what extent are connectivity issues still hampering the country’s ability to take full advantage of digital transformation?

NW: Things are definitely looking up when to comes to connectivity and speed, but there is still a lot of heavy lifting that needs to be done by government – most likely in the form of public-private partnerships. There are many cities around the world that have transformed quicker than those in Africa, which begs the question as to why change has been so slow. Africa has shown its tenacity, innovation and openness to change in other areas and a modest investment, and more importantly the right investment, in technology could massively benefit the continent and its population.

A relevant example, would be using connectivity for electricity and water management for example. Smart meters enable the council to read effectively and bill effectively which means they can use their resources elsewhere for better delivery. From a water perspective, having sensors in public toilets to ascertain if they need to be flushed, could save millions of litres of water a year in a large metro area. IoT creates a solution that allows for more efficient water solution.

Looking beyond service delivery, TV white space could be utilised to reach urban areas with connectivity more effectively. The digital TV migration that should have happened in 2011 would allow for available frequency sets to be allocated decrease the digital divide in rural areas. However, delays in such decisions and deployments hamper the continent as a whole.

RN: What’s your view of the high data prices we experience with mobile connectivity? What can and should be done to address the issue?

NW: Different commercial models are required. As Africa builds out its infrastructure, we need to look at hybrid models, using mobile services for voice and data on Wi-Fi. While understandably service providers want to recover their investment, this is having a significant impact on the cost of data and what we use our devices for.

Looking ahead, if we look at organisations which are building networks to subsidise their content – to engage their consumers, municipalities that are deploying smart cities to connect and engage their citizens and using technology to address environmental concerns – all combined can not only provide more access that is required, but certainly decrease the cost for the end consumer as well.  

RN: Can you speak to the role of Wi-Fi in connecting South Africa? It seems like progress has been made in certain areas but how much more can and should be done to leverage the technology?

NW: Wi-Fi has a significant role to play as not only is it a cost-effective way on connecting citizens, but it can be easily deployed as there is no license required to carry out this function. Additionally, there isn’t a massive infrastructure requirement so it’s achievable especially across geographically dispersed rural areas. What’s more, many rural towns have no broadband, purely because of a cost perspective, and as such Wi-Fi provides an alternative to bring broadband to rural areas for much less than what they would pay for 3G or fibre.

Progress has certainly been made here, but there is a way to go. The most important step that should and could be taken, would be to engage the large mobile and infrastructure providers to encourage them to augment Wi-Fi as an extension of their coverage. There is a proven cost benefit of Wi-Fi against other cellular technologies and it is critical to understand and accept that in order to truly benefit the African people, they need to roll out Wi-Fi into broader areas and give the public access to content, even if there is no immediate benefit, the long-term benefits are evident.

RN: Finally, what are you most excited about with regards for telecommunication trends to watch for in the year ahead?

NW: Increasing effective connectivity. I see positive signs with regards to infrastructure developments across the continent and this is exactly what Africa needs. We are also likely to see more practical roll outs of IoT deployments, particularly for sustainability. Lastly, the ability to use virtual reality modelling (high definition video) over Wi-Fi in localised environments. Networks have always been a constraining factor but we are starting to truly realise ubiquitous communication, where we can disregard the network, but still get a fantastic experience.

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