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Communications tech biggest catalyst for ICT in Africa - Gartner

Communications tech biggest catalyst for ICT in Africa - Gartner

While developed markets have a tendency to take communications technologies for granted, the case for emerging markets, like Africa, is quite the opposite: the sense of expectation is still strong and service providers remain key role-players with new technologies widely considered a catalyst for ICT development and application.

Speaking to ITWeb Africa ahead of the Gartner Symposium scheduled for September in Cape Town, principal research analyst William Hahn said Gartner's 2017 Hype Cycle for ICT in Africa confirms that communication technologies are setting the ICT agenda for the region.

"One of the themes that we've emphasised for years now, I don't see it changing anytime soon, is the tremendous influence of communications technologies as a catalyst for ICT ... and to a certain extent that is always true, but in developed markets there is such a tendency to take it for granted, communications providers are under a lot of stress to somehow distinguish themselves from a utility just providing connectivity, they're kind of getting pushed down by all these mature and powerful value chains in other areas," says Hahn.

He explains that technology focus areas like mobile commerce, super Wi-Fi and advanced underserved area communications (AUAC) are going to be pivotal in helping African businesses grow and attract investment.

According to Gartner, AUAC, while still in the embryonic stage, will have a transformational impact in markets like Africa. "Over the next decade, one or more AUAC next-generation systems is likely to extend to at least 60 percent of the world's population."

Hahn adds, "The mobile telephony revolution that transformed connectivity in Africa will continue to evolve in the next two years with further penetration by ultra-low-cost mobile devices. The proliferation of connectivity into semiurban and rural parts of Africa will be a powerful force to reduce the 'digital divide', which is one of the biggest social issues in Africa. It will also empower organisations seeking to benefit commercially from 'bottom of the pyramid' opportunities."

These direct communications technologies remain the most impactful technologies in Africa, and are well represented on the Hype Cycle.

However, as Hahn points out, these technologies are now being implemented and the realities of so-called 'growing pains' will have an influence on market response.

Trough of disillusionment

Upon closer analysis of the various positions on Hype Cycle, there very few tech profiles positioned along the 'slope' (from the 'peak of inflated expectations' down into the 'trough of disillusionment') says Hahn.

"We could probably find others that would fit and have some relevance, but these are the ones that sort of stand out – there are about a half-a-dozen of them, from the Internet of Things down to cloud office. The thing to keep in mind about that is, here is a set of tech profiles that are rather important – they all kind of resonate ... smart city framework, HetNets, wearables, mobile commerce... they're all pretty famous things. What we mean by positioning them here is that they're heading for bad news. People are going to start crabbing about them, whereas formally they were raving about them because they are starting to go through growing pains and they're starting to actually be implemented. These are the kinds of technologies we think will really start to work their magic in Africa in the next year to two years."

But, do not expect a lot of good news says Hahn. This is because whereas before they were touted for their potential, now they will be criticised for the growing pains, which always happens with implementation.

Backbone maturity and muscle

The technology has reached a certain level of maturity and Hahn says in terms of communications networks, these technologies require a critical mass to build.

"You have to start to have to have enough heft in the network, that you can really have a market for those things. And then business processes will change and become more efficient, and yes, less expensive. The responsibility for maintaining a good, serviceable connection will begin to change. Who is going to step forward and start to really guarantee those connections? That is very dependent on the maturity and muscle, if you will, in the backbone of the network," says Hahn.

He explains that Africa, rightly, is focused on getting basic communications out to mass markets, particularly in large volume markets like Kenya and Nigeria. Now the opportunity is there to bring the backbone, where the cloud lives, into a stronger state to enable another generation of revolutionary change for the market.

"This is where the mature markets are now, that's coming, I think, to Africa... in certain markets first, obviously South Africa still arguably a little more advanced than any other major market in the region, but other markets are starting to come on and show that interest as well."

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