Overcoming infrastructure challenges is key to 4IR success
Ubiquitous connectivity is vital to enabling the Internet of Things
“The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) hold the potential to solve some of the most critical socioeconomic needs of SA and its citizens.”
This is according to Vino Govender, executive for strategy, mergers and acquisitions, and innovation at Dark Fibre Africa (DFA).
Govender says, however, that these benefits cannot be extended to all South Africans without connectivity. And without higher levels of collaboration, coordination and cooperation among industry stakeholders, the goals relating to connectivity infrastructure cannot be achieved at enough speed and scale.
Connectivity-reliant technologies, such as virtual and augmented reality, can deliver high-quality health, education and other services to residents, businesses and institutions that typically would not have access to such services.
From applications such as telepresence to expand the reach of various kinds of expertise to collaborative technologies or enhance skills transfer, the benefits of the technology are already being proven.
Artificial intelligence applications range from predictive health and environmental monitoring (for example, to proactively manage threats of natural disasters or pandemics) to education and training (for example, to provide customised learning that takes into account individual needs and experience with the subject matter). This revolutionary technology is still in its infancy in terms of deployment in SA.
Ubiquitous connectivity is vital to enabling the Internet of Things (IoT). Using drones to deliver much-needed medical supplies to hard-to-reach rural areas is well documented. IoT also plays a role in improving farming and supporting emergency services, among many other applications.
“Connectivity infrastructure is a foundational requirement for 4IR-digital technologies and services,” says Govender.
The last study conducted by DFA in partnership with World Wide Worx found that, while internet connectivity was increasing in SA's metros, penetration in provinces with large rural areas and low income was as low as 25%.
Govender says that, compared with metropolitan and urban areas that have a significantly higher level of infrastructure deployment and densification, deployment of infrastructure in non-urban areas remains a challenge.
He believes the answer lies in aggregating common demand on common infrastructure, which is the principle upon which the DFA open-access model is based. “This delivers efficient input-cost structures to participants along the value chain, enabling them to deliver connectivity and services to non-urban areas in an economically viable way,” he says.
Wireless last-mile access is an efficient and appropriate medium to deliver services in non-urban areas. One model that can be considered is active radio access network (RAN) sharing, which eliminates duplicating infrastructure up to the RAN level, driving down the associated costs.
“The aggregated backhaul demand on a single site supports the economic case for fibre-backhaul rollout at price points that are economically viable in non-urban areas,” says Govender.
He adds that policies that support the above-mentioned approach should address the opportunity of spectrum pooling and sharing to deliver shared RAN services that provide the data capacity required to deliver 4IR-technology-based services in these areas.
These could take the form of subsidising network infrastructure or implementing incentives such as tax concessions on premises and resources required to extend networks in non-urban areas.
“We should seriously consider these measures because they have proven successful in other markets where they needed to extend their network coverage,” Govender says.
“As an enabler of the 4IR, DFA remains committed to exploring and contributing to solutions that will make the 4IR a reality in a manner that supports economic and social inclusion.”
For more information on DFA’s state-of-the-art wholesale connectivity, visit www.dfafrica.co.za.
This article was paid for by Dark Fibre Africa.