As the Fourth Industrial Revolution becomes a reality, telecommunications is coming to the fore as a chief economic growth enabler for SA. The impact goes beyond the economic opportunities that the sector can create for citizens. We are moving into a future that will be enabled by telecommunications, and more specifically, internet connectivity.

Connecting SA

The government has acknowledged that it has a responsibility towards the country’s citizens to ensure digital inclusivity for all. This is the basis for SA Connect, the country’s national broadband policy. It highlights the need for an “enabling platform for economic enterprise, active citizenship, and social engagement innovation” that a telecommunications-supported digital ecosystem will make possible.

Public sector organisations in SA and the world carry out the formidable task of ensuring that all citizens have equal opportunities.

Like most governments, SA is participating vigorously in conversations about 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine communication and other new, connectivity-enabled technologies that are affecting our societies. More specifically, they are looking at the role the government can play in making these as widely available as possible. In a country like SA, with widely divergent standards of living, this also means looking at ways to level the playing field as far as the cost of access is concerned.

One of the biggest benefits that open-access infrastructure offers is a reduction in infrastructure duplication, which lowers costs across the board for the industry and creates efficiencies. It enables a telecoms ecosystem where participants can concentrate on their core roles and avoid unnecessary overlaps. With a drive to make high-speed connectivity accessible to all sectors of the population, infrastructure sharing like this makes it more feasible to deploy fibre in lower-income areas and those outside metros.  

By using the available expertise and network infrastructure and capabilities that have already been built up by their private sector partners, governments will go a long way in meeting the growing connectivity needs of their populations.

The concept of open-access networks was first introduced in SA when Dark Fibre Africa (DFA) was awarded a contract to develop a network that would be leased to one of the country’s biggest telecoms operators. This soon established a successful model, which launched a number of small, medium-sized and micro enterprises, including internet services providers who could now take advantage of the scalability that infrastructure at scale offered.

DFA’s customers could grow their own customer base on the reliability and quality of its network. Mobile operators were able to offer faster speeds and focus on their core offering on the back of the leased infrastructure.

High-speed service delivery

SA’s e-government policy framework already proposes the use of information and communications technology (ICT) to improve the government’s efficiency and effectiveness and to make it convenient for citizens to access government services. While the availability and adoption of such services are not yet widespread, there have been some notable e-government successes. One only has to look at the National Treasury's eTender Publication Portal, eHomeAffairs, and the South African Revenue Service’s eFiling system for examples of success in the public sector.

Despite such successes, the use of the IoT sensors that form the base of true smart-city implementations is still some way off from reaching the kind of critical mass it needs to be effective. However, the government has recognised that high-speed internet connectivity is the critical foundational infrastructure on which such an approach needs to be built.

To date, DFA has invested billions in the roll-out of more than 13,000km of fibre across the country, servicing enterprises and citizens alike.

As the drive to lay a proper foundation for a Fourth Industrial Revolution future continues, so the private sector will have a significant role to play in ensuring the continued roll-out of fibre. Clearly, DFA – along with many others – will play a key role in ensuring that, as the data surge brought on by IoT and machine-to-machine communications grows to massive proportions, the country’s connectivity requirements are thoroughly supported by a robust and extensive fibre network.

This article was paid for by Dark Fibre Africa.

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