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Target connectivity first, then 4IR ambition - Vodacom

Target connectivity first, then 4IR ambition - Vodacom

It's time that Africa reviews its strategy regarding ubiquitous digital communication and widespread access to the internet – the continent must focus on getting connectivity right, then it can explore opportunities related to 4IR.

That's according to William Mzimba, chief executive officer, Vodacom Business Group, who delivered this message to delegates at AfricaCom 2019 hosted recently in Cape Town.

Mzimba said that in its rush to secure its piece of the 4IR pie, Africa is neglecting the basics – for example, the spectrum required for ubiquitous connectivity.

"(It's) about simplifying the conversation to make sure that everyone understands what we need to do first. Because right now I think we are running quite hard on 4IR - everybody's on the 4IR bandwagon - but we're actually not addressing the fundamental things that need to be addressed at the basic level, which is just connectivity."

"If we need to talk about 4IR, we should be rushing to give spectrum because spectrum allows connectivity. And if we don't get connectivity ubiquitously, everywhere where it needs to be and it's pervasive and it's done cheaply, we won't get to 4IR."

The premise of Mzimba's message to the market is that there is a pressing need to connect people, things and institutions at every level in society – which is what is envisaged with IOT.

"What are we doing around legislation that will allow IOT connectivity to happen? No-one is talking at that level as yet and we know there will be billions of devices that are going to be connected, who is today thinking about regulating what's going to happen in that space of IOT," he continued.

Expediting spectrum

The first thing that Africa has to do is to form a united front in the quest to expedite spectrum said Mzimba, highlighting developments in South Africa as an example.

"We are very excited that the information memorandum is out, that the policy direction has been given, that ICASA is working feverishly towards allocating the spectrum... and we are excited that in the conversation there is potentially a 5G 'kind of conversation' and that we will get there faster than we did with 4G," he added.

At the same time he is concerned over the country's lack of progress with regards to digital migration which Mzimba said is hogging the spectrum.

Conversations must happen in parallel and happen quickly in order to secure the required spectrum, he added.

The second step is to build Africa's communications ecosystem and empower those who are connected with the ability to communicate.

"We need to be able to bring more people into the ecosystem that can build the communication services around converged solutions, are we bringing fixed and mobile together to allow seamless communication? How are we bringing technologies with low latency that can get us there quicker? Have we propagated fibre into the places where we need (to start having) speed in communication? We need to get to that level.

"I think we are doing quite well for those that are already connected to enable the communication - so (that part) I don't think there are hurdles. Then I argue that once we've done that, you will be amazed because now we have connected businesses which have adopted what I call 'mobile first' in how they do business. We have communities that are adopting mobile first in how they run societies and then we're starting to talk about gigabit societies."

Mzimba defines gigabit societies as those that are always on, always connected and they are insight and data driven.

"So we start to get devices connected, people connected and the interactions start to happen. Then, all of sudden, without talking about the hype of big data, people are actually doing big data. Then all of sudden you get into intelligent businesses, which are cloud first, and people start to move their communication and data to the cloud - and we become intelligent societies and we become an intelligent continent," he said.

Connection junction

According to Mzimba while AI will drive 4IR and it is important to be aware of the role of technologies like robotics, computer visioning and quantum computing, connectivity has to be sorted out.

"What's going to happen is our schools are going to lag behind in the connectivity space, they will hear about 4IR, but they'll never get there. Because we are not creating the byways and highways for those schools to get there ... which is connectivity."

Mzimba acknowledges the level of collaboration and number of projects focused on establishing and strengthening connectivity, including satellite infrastructure, fibre rollout, Wi-Fi service delivery and undersea cable links in Africa.

At the same event where the senior Vodacom executive presented, AfricaCom 2019, several companies announced deals and details regarding connectivity projects.

For example, Liquid Telecom announced the launch of what it claims to be the fastest direct land-based fibre link connecting East to West Africa.

This is a coast-to-coast digital corridor follows the completion of Liquid Telecom's new high-capacity fibre link running 2,600 km across the DRC.

The new extension connects the DRC to neighbouring Tanzania and Zambia with onward connectivity to Liquid Telecom's 'One Africa' broadband network fast approaching 70,000km across 13 African countries. It is central to the company's vision to create a single fibre network spanning the entire African continent – North to South and East to West.

In another example, pan-African service provider Seacom announced a partnership with Vodacom Business Africa, the enterprise-focused ICT subsidiary of the Vodacom Group, to initiate the next chapter of both companies' African network connectivity ventures.

Seacom says the partnership will ensure it can service customer and partner demands beyond existing markets and across Vodacom's infrastructure footprint – a significant move given the disruption taking place in the enterprise wide area network (WAN) space with technologies like SD-WAN gaining traction.

In early November 2019, ITWeb Africa reported that Patrick Nyirishema, Director-General for the Rwanda Utility and Regulatory Authority (RURA), attributed the increasing number of African countries embarking on satellite projects to the advent of low-cost space technology.

According to the Nanosats Database curated by Erik Kulu, as of 30 October 2019, a total of 1150 low-cost satellites have been launched by 65 countries, with ten launched in Africa.

Talking internet

Mzimba added, "Everybody is talking about low-orbit satellites, about inclusion and coverage for everyone, and internet for all... its connectivity! So everybody understands that that is very important. When we started talking about the internet, we talked about societies that were excluded from the internet. Today, 2019, we're talking 4iR... we have eight hundred million who have never done 'www dot something dot com' .... They don't know that language, we have to get them to begin to know that language, which is live in the world of the internet because 4IR is all about the internet."

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