AfricaCom 2015 – Aiming high and partnering up for 100% coverage

Setting the scene for day two at AfricaCom 2015, and echoing the previous day’s connectivity discourse, The Hon. Prof. Hlengiwe Mkhize, Deputy Minister of South Africa’s Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, took to the stage to highlight the importance of information and communications technologies for socio-economic developments in Africa.

“As a newly established Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services, we appreciate an opportunity to come and share ideas with such a distinguished audience” the Deputy Minister said.

She highlighted the Department’s objectives: “Much of the ICT revolution is driven by the private sector but as a government we have realised that we have an important role to play in aligning policies with the possibilities emerging from the private sector. What we’ve struggled with is the digital divide. The cost of communications is unreasonably high in societies where it is needed the most. The question of skills is also important.

Broadband access is a key priority: “In 2014, South Africa had an Internet penetration rate of about 40%. There is a significant growth but it tends to be concentrated in the ‘golden’ cities like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and East London. Mobile technology has been a game changer:  people have at least a mobile phone even in the most remote rural areas, but we need to go beyond using it as a replacement for a fixed line and develop e-services. Our target (Government) is to achieve 100% broadband penetration by 2020 as well as transforming 70% of all front-line service to e-Service by 2019”.

To achieve this, the South African government has allocated more than R700 million spread over the next three years to implement SA Connect Broadband Policy.

She mentioned education, e-government, e-health and mobile financial services as key elements of ICT development: “We are investing a lot in e-government. We see the use of technology as a real enabler. People who access services online tend to have higher levels of satisfaction, so it calls for a clear e-strategy.”

She called for increased co-operation between industry stakeholders and recognised the important support that regulators and governments can give the industry: “we are aligning our policy strategies with the regulators and ensuring we promote a competitive environment.  I invite you to look carefully at partnerships and to take advantage of the tax breaks and the many opportunities that governments are availing.”

In terms of spectrum allocation, the department is in the process of auditing the needs and she acknowledged the clear requirement for new allocation toward ICT development.

She concluded by saying: “The biggest commodity in the world today is knowledge, and the ability to   generate, access, and distribute knowledge have become key determinants for a higher developmental trajectory for any nation. Strategic investment in the ICT sector would allow Africa to play an increasingly important role in the development of new applications and innovations that would be relevant to the needs of the continent, which in turn would have a multiplier effect on economic growth.”

Mobile Satisfaction and new revenue streams
But, is Africa digitising too fast?  Where does the curve meet on determining whether to maintain the 2G lower spectrum services that are still required in the main across the continent, with the deployment of faster, more sophisticated yet more data consumptive services and the broadband that requires intensive capital injection? What are the mechanisms for delivering the optimal digitisation of the continent – taking to the skies with satellite or digging deep with fibre?

These questions and more also permeated the halls and conference rooms of day two, as too the ongoing discussion around customer satisfaction.  As Africa digitises, its peoples are becoming more sophisticated in terms of what their rights are and what they can demand.

Arnauld Blondet, Innovation Director for AMEA, Orange Group: “We are focusing on three points: network, billing and the customer relationship.  For the rest (e.g. content) we build partnerships to deliver it. We still need more local content. It’s happening with music but we need more local video content. The more there is the better for the continent.

“Transformation is on our minds every day. Africa is moving much faster than European markets because customers are changing their habits faster. Mobiles are becoming remote controls for people’s lives.”

“Customers are expecting to pay less and less while our costs are going up. We need to work with our partners, aggregators etc.  If we’re not all too greedy, we’ll make money,” commented Evans Muhanga, Properties Specialist at Econet Wireless Zimbabwe.

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