Address by the Honourable Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services, Dr. Siyabonga Cwele at the 2015 Southern African Telecommunications Networks and Applications (SATNAC) Conference.
07 September 2015
“Africa – The Future Communications Galaxy”
Chairperson of the Telkom Board, Mr. Jabu Mabuza,
Chief Executive Officer of Telkom, Mr. Sipho Maseko,
Deputy Vice Chancelor of the University of Cape Town, Prof. Francis Petersen,
Leaders of the South African ICT Centre,
All Postgraduate Students presenting papers at this year’s SATNAC,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed an honour to address the 2015 Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications (SATNAC) Conference. This conference is a strategic and necessary platform that enables academics, students, industry and government to engage in discussion on how we can shape the ICT sector to actively contribute towards the development of South Africa, SADC, and our continent Africa. Telkom Centre of Excellence informs us that this programme has benefitted 2 700 students since its inception in 1997. This partnership intiative contributes significantly to ensure that we have a highly skilled and educated workforce to implement our national objectives for global competitiveness.
Last week we attended a successful AU Ministerial Meeting on critical ICT issues. Internet remaims the key driver of technology today. It is a global phenomenon and runs applications on virtually all aspects of society. It it a key part of our lives: 2012 Boston consulting group study shows that people are willing to give up food, alcohol, cars and even sex instead of the internet. Internet, particularly broadband is a critical national resource, a vital part of the national infrastructure and one of the key drivers of socio-economic development. The vital question we need to collectively ask ourselves as government, industry and academia is, how do we ensure that we play a meaningful role in the global digital revolution in order to be foster a vibrant and inclusive knowledge economy and information society that is envisaged by our National Development Plan?
Let us cast our mind fifteen years back to 2000 in our continent: internet penetration was 0.78 %, mobile penetration was less than 2%, international connectivity was using satellites for sub-Saharan Africa, national backbones were almost inexistent, and broadband was almost inexistent. Internet arrived in South Africa and Tunisia in 1991 and in Egypt in 1993, by 1997 47 out of the them 53 countries in Africa had some sort of Internet.
Today African Internet penetration has grown to about 21% with Tunisia, South Africa and Egypt leading with about 50% penetration. In 2011 inter- Africa Internet bandwidth was less than 2% of all the international traffic yet today it is about 10%. We have are making progress in the establishment of national Internet Exchange Points yet Africa is still paying oversees carriers to exchange continental traffic which is costly and inefficient. Progress is being made as three regional IXPs in South Africa, Kenya and Rwanda are in place as we move to establish others in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Gabon.
In the mid 90’s, there were around 600 000 mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa and today it is estimated that we have more than 750 million mobile phones. This rapid adoption of mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa has ensured increased access to basic voice communications and thus we have achieved considerable progress in closing the digital divide in voice services. This was achieved through innovative solutions such as the introduction of prepaid cards and appropriate policy and regulatory frameworks from governments which enabled investor confidence in mobile telephony.
As the South African government, we are begining to implement our broadband policy, South Africa Connect as announced by President Jacob Zuma during his 2015 State of the Nation Address.
Through the broadband rollout, government intends to accelerate the delivery of broadband to government offices, communities and SMME’s. The ground work in the 8 pilot district municipalities has commenced in collaboration with Telkom and we are well on a path to ensure that all South Africans, particularly those in the rural areas have access to broadband connectivity. The second phase of connectivity will begin in the coming financial year and run until 2020 as all government offices in South Africa will be connected to broadband. As we connect all government offices to drive e-government, we envisage increased uptake and use of ICT’s and ultimately all South Africans will be a part of this digital revolution. We have established the iKamva National e-Skills Institute to ensure that as we implement e-government we can skill our government employees to be able to effectively provide e-government services to our people.
We have also finalised the National ICT Policy Review and we are working towards aligning the sector’s legal framework with the recommendations of the review to enable the rapid deployment of broadband infrastructure, to create open access networks that will reduce the duplication of infrastructure and direct competition towards services, encourage the expansion of local manufacturing of ICT goods and SMME growth and direct the allocation of spectrum as a scarce resource for national growth.
During my visits to the 8 pilot districts for broadband rollout, I interacted with local entrepreneurs who were provided with connectivity and have been able to move from trading only in perishable goods such as fruit and vegetables to trading in high value goods such as airtime and electricity.
We have seen innovative solutions to some of Africa’s problems in cities like Nairobi where it is estimated that anywhere up to 20% of the Kenyan GDP is circulating on the back of the mobile platforms like M-Pesa thus effectively providing financial services to the previously unbanked. Locally in South Africa students from Stellenbosch University developed the MXIT mobile app which has grown tremendously beyond our borders and enables communication between millions of people on the African continent. We have seen young people from the Eastern Cape designing a low cost solar powered android tablet suited for the needs of South Africans living in rural areas without adequate access to electricity.
Technology is increasingly converging as society is increasingly connecting through the “Internet of Things”. It is estimated that we have more than 9 billion connected devices which are projected to reach a trillion by 2025. We need an entrepreneurial approach to ensure that we are a part of this digital revolution as we innovate ideas that are affordable, sustainable and scalable.
I anticipate that the innovative ideas which originate through the research done by students and delivered at platforms such as SATNAC can follow the example of these innovations I have mentioned and can be geared to address the challenges specific to South Africa through ICT’s. I have no doubt that we potentially have the best minds in South Africa’s ICT sector gathered here today.
I would like to applaud the work done by the students who will present papers at this year’s SATNAC conference and encourage that research should go beyond academic exercise and aim to address the practical challenges that we are facing as a country and a continent. The solutions to the challenges in agriculture, health, education and all critical sectors can all be engineered through ICT’s.
As we move forward there are two critical issues we must prioritise. The first is to enter the global debate on internet governance. As a country we welcome multi-stakeholder approach but it must be government led and be coordinated at multilateral level. It must in operate the interest of security, human rights, business and technology development. We must also cast our focus to the future and embrace future applications and services that would increasingly rely on support for key features such as multilingualism, security and identity management. In this regard we must engage the Digital Object Architecture.
In conclusion, I would like to appreciate the efforts of Telkom for having partnered with various universities across South Africa through its Centre of Excellence Programme as an investment to the ICT sector as a whole. I hope your interventions should be made available to young people particularly those from previously disadvantaged backgrounds to train as developers, artisans and become entrepreneurs in the ICT sector.
I wish you all a productive conference as we work towards ensuring that we are all active participants in Africa’s digital revolution.
I thank you.