The South African government has identified the ICT industry as one of the key sectors that will facilitate faster economic growth and radically transform our society - but with digitalisation comes many changes and adjustments.
It is clear from global and local research that South Africa is missing out on growth opportunities because it lacks in factors such as internet penetration, cost and speed – which also means we are missing out on digitalisation – across all sectors and of course, from a citizen perspective as well. The push towards digitalisation also means that Wi-Fi connectivity has an important role to play in future connected cities. It also means we need to start thinking about connectivity in different ways if we are to truly take advantage of digitalisation.
So what key factors are driving digitalisation? Well, mobile requirements, unified communications, cloud and data requirements are some of the key factors contributing to digitalisation – not only from a personal perspective, but also from a business and city one as well. However, the thread that weaves everything together is connectivity and access. There is a move towards ubiquitous connectivity – business and individuals demand it – and this in itself is changing the way we look at things, business models and processes, which in turn, demand more connectivity.
And as the demand grows, questions turn to infrastructure, do we have the right infrastructure in place?
In my opinion, I believe that we are moving in the right direction but we are not there just yet. There is still much to be done to ensure connectivity penetration is increased – and that it is done at an affordable rate. The current telco based solutions are not working and coupled with regulation there is still much work that needs to be done if we are truly to move forward in terms of digitalisation and connectivity.
By 2020 it is estimated that an entire generation will have grown up in a digital world – which means their reliance on technology and desire to be connected will transform and digitise the environment even further and we need the infrastructure to ensure that this can take place.
And this is exactly where Wi-Fi comes in. Wi-Fi has an important role to play here. In fact, Wi-Fi represents one of the most expedient and cost-effective ways to increase both capacity and coverage of cellular networks with a tight focus on where traffic is heaviest.
Ultimately for the operators Wi-Fi is a far more cost effective way to provide access to customers and on the reverse, for customers, it’s not only cost effective but also a better experience - especially if the 3G networks are congested. What’s more, many rural towns have no broadband, purely from a cost perspective, and as such Wi-Fi provides an alternative to bring broadband into these areas for much less than what they would pay for 3G.
Fibre will provide another necessary means to connect Africa to the world and, just like the current undersea cables, will add additional speed, capacity and in maturity, decrease costs of broadband. However, while fibre and 4G/LTE services will certainly help increase network capacity, it still won’t be enough, as history has taught us that there is an insatiable appetite for bandwidth and now, for spectrum as well. That is why it is imperative to add capacity and coverage as fast as possible if we are truly going to take advantage of digitalisation and the possibilities it brings – and Wi-Fi’s role in this is critical.
Additionally, as we digitalise, our economy starts to digitalise too and the pressure is on for cities to become 'smart'. In fact, if we consider that half of the world’s population are already city-dwellers, and the trend towards increased urbanisation is accelerating rapidly – it is easy to see that the future of the majority of the world’s citizens is undeniably urban – where it is expected that 70%* will live in cities by 2050. The African continent is a developing one and as such, there is a strong need to focus more on investing in ICT and socio-economic development, while still effectively managing budgets and scarce natural resources, to ensure it is able to continue to develop and that smart cities are able to come to the fore. All of this, is with the intention to provide quality working and living conditions for citizens.
Ubiquitous mobile communications demand ubiquitous connectivity. Tens of billions of devices and systems are connecting to the Internet of Things, bringing revolutionary changes to businesses and cities. Future cities will be run on connectivity, using data and analytics to improve service delivery, improve traffic flows, monitor electricity and water use for sustainability and driving building and office efficiencies to name but a few – but all these elements require access to connectivity – and Wi-Fi will be a key component alongside 3G, LTE and municipal fibre networks.
Digitalisation is coming and together, through access and development, we can drive the economy forward.
* Global Smart Infrastructure - Smart Cities and Smart Communities - Trends and Insights, BuddeCom