TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Leveraging technological advances

Eckart Zollner, Business Development Manager, The Jasco Group
Eckart Zollner 1.jpg

In Africa, we have a significant opportunity to leverage technological advances, as we do not have massive capital investment into legacy infrastructure. This will enable the market to leapfrog previous industry leaders.

However, in order to achieve this, industry players, including operators and ICT providers, need to think outside of the box. South Africa has already shown its ability to innovate in the 1990s with the invention of prepaid cellular services, which have since spread to the rest of the world. A similar spirit of innovation and inspiration will be needed to bring telecoms up to speed and beyond international standards by 2020.

The telecoms industry is currently one of the leading growth sectors in the global economy for a number of different reasons, including the emergence of telecommunications as one of the most important components of business, social, cultural and political activity. Researchers forecast that by 2020, the number of mobile users will reach 6 billion and the number of people accessing the Internet will reach 4.7 billion.

The average person in 2020 will live in a web of 200 to 300 contacts, maintained daily through a variety of channels. Several key trends are shaping the telecoms industry of the future, for the most part centred on rapid growth of data traffic as opposed to traditional voice communications. The insatiable demand for faster, better quality data connections, along with advanced telecoms technologies, will see optical solutions come to the fore, as fibre and high speed wireless becomes the de facto connectivity standard.

Opportunity spoke to Eckart Zollner, Business Development Manager, The Jasco Group, about how the telecoms industry will underpin trade on  the continent.

Over recent years the telecoms industry has sky-rocketed. Can you please tell us how this industry and the development of it will impact trade and investment in SA for 2016 and beyond?

It is an essential pre-requisite for investment and more must be done to connect the country. But in the case of investment from within the sector itself, the recent launch of Netflix is probably the best example. Netflix could not invest and establish a local footprint before we started rolling fibre out to the home and fibre to the premises and importantly, having gained some acceptance. With regard to general trade and investment - overseas players in their own countries are ahead of us in their use of ICT for business. Before they invest, they will want to know that they can connect remote offices and branches back to their own in-country network. They will also want to ensure that they can sell and replicate their services such via for instance e-commerce solutions and in new markets. Market adoptions such as Cloud for the workforce are important to them. In other words, the accelerated growth of the industry in South Africa is an absolute essential ingredient for the country to attract continued foreign trade and investment.

What are the biggest current trends that we will see boosting our economy in the future?

Investing in electronic security and mobility platforms will continue to dominate the sector in South Africa. Mobile application development is key to reach target markets that can't otherwise be easily reached. The move to cloud services allows us to leapfrog and accelerate market adoption by lowering the barrier to entry of otherwise expensive software licensing. Smart cities and e-governance, for the first time, are tools at our disposal to establish and improve service delivery to an all-inclusive society.

With specific regard to SA being a developing country, how will the telecoms industry benefit the people?

The biggest areas here are e-health and e-learning projects. However, our telecommunications policies and regulatory framework are not flexible enough to fast track rollout of ICT services to the broader population. South Africa has a vast amount of people living outside geographic or economic means to access broadband services. This means that access to information and access to markets is hindered, thus slowing development and economic growth as well as not being able to provide a quality healthcare system.

Can you please expand on the current state of information and communication networks, globalisation, and the growth of the private sector in SA?

In South Africa we have a plethora of these networks, hence we are going through a phase of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions. This will persist for a few years still, and again our regulatory framework is not conducive to rapid consolidation. In today's technological environment, economies of scale are more important to the providers than ever before. On the part of globalisation, we are seeing many international providers taking note of Africa's potential and establishing themselves in well developed markets such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa to unlock the potential of the region. South African firms are trailing their international counterparts in successfully penetrating foreign markets, given the weakness of our currency and the lack of skills experienced in our country.

Which sectors of our economy will benefit most from the successful development of our telecom networks?

Any sector that relies on ICT infrastructure for its success, such as software development, research programs (such as the SKA), manufacturing that can improve its supply chain management and reduce costs, financial services that can reduce costs and improve efficiencies and agility are some examples.

Looking at expanding and developing our telecoms industry, what is SA doing right?

We are learning from our counterparts in Europe and applying such learnings to constantly improve our processes. In the field of SMS-based messaging and in the field of machine-to-machine communication, we have taken a strong and leading role to deliver services through such mechanisms.

Where can we improve?

Government structures, government strategy and the fulfilment of the mandate and vision to connect the majority of our population. Telecoms and ICT in government must galvanise to fast track our goals.

Can you please tell us about the importance of collaboration between the private sector and Government?

The ever-increasing speed of technological developments, increasing complexity and the requirement to bring the latest developments to the people of the country, in order to remain globally competitive, means that governments alone can no longer fund and manage ICT deployments. Private Public Partnerships and a clear and common aligned strategy is absolutely key to economic development of the country.

What is your opinion on Government's current role in developing our telecoms industry?

The current role is more important than ever. To benefit from innovation and to reach lowest possible prices means that an open and competitive market is key. But this has to be regulated at the right areas, because the required resources, such as radio spectrum and underground fibre routes, have physical and investment limitations. Government has to allow open market forces, yet regulate where necessary to allow optimum and cost effective use of limited resources.

If Jasco could give advice to both government and the private sector to maximise on the opportunities available, what would that be?

It would be to re-establish effective communication and explore opportunities between Government and the private sector.

What is the responsibility of the man in the street when it comes to telecommunications?

Despite all the problems and delays, we are in an extremely exciting phase of development. We as citizens ourselves have to take responsibility for educating ourselves and each other on many social and ethical aspects as well as all the risks of this new technology that we are exposed to. We have opened ourselves to much fraud and abuse of this technology. We have to set new rules and norms concerning the use and ethics of topics such as social media and a world with broadband connectivity on multiple devices on a 24/7x/365 basis.

Courteney-Jade Gillespie

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