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Africa’s staggered digital transformation impacts access to digital economy

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 06 Jul 2023
Leo Chen, president of Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa region.
Leo Chen, president of Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa region.

While the world can look forward to the roll out of 5.5G network infrastructure, artificial intelligence, ‘cloudification’ and rapid deployment of benefits linked to digital economy development, Africa faces several challenges in its quest to join the ecosystem.

In his opening address at the Huawei Eco-Connect 2023 conference, Philly Mapulane, South Africa’s deputy minister of Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, stressed the need for affordable, reliable, and secure connectivity, as well as affordable broadband and digital devices.

He said Africa continues to grapple with the roll out of 4G connectivity, an acute shortage of relevant skills (especially 4IR), a growing digital divide, advancement in digital literacy, and access to affordable digital devices.

Mapulane said the South African government looks to address these issues with the roll out of several initiatives, including SA Connect to empower 80% of citizens with this connectivity in the next three years.

He reiterated progress made on the government’s delayed broadcasting digital migration (BDM) programme and confirmed 31 July as the date for switching off all analogue broadcasting services above 694MHz, with 31 December 2024 as the end of the dual-illumination period and switch-off of the remaining analogue services below 694MHz.

Access to government services was also emphasised.

The Gauteng provincial government said that 78% of people access the internet through mobile devices, thus prompting authorities to convert service offerings to mobile platforms.

Africa’s leapfrog opportunity

Huawei Sub Saharan Africa region president, Leo Chen, said that Africa is projected to spend US$46.4 billion on AI by 2026, and the continent has an opportunity to leapfrog to benefit from 4G and 5G industrial revolution, but there are obstacles.

Chen said, “The digital transformation of industries requires cost effective solutions and relevant infrastructure. But there are challenges, including a gap in computing power and storage capacity, a lack of easy ways to make new technology like cloud and AI available to all industries.”

Africa’s list of challenges includes a gap in network infrastructure and coverage, as well as power supply.

“Network coverage is less than 50% in most of Africa and bandwidth is low, between 10 and 40GPS. Additionally, there are 600 million Africans without access to electricity,” Chen added.

The Huawei executive underlined the company’s ongoing focus on SMEs, smart technology – especially in key sectors of green technology, retail, manufacturing, and government – and its investment of US$30 million in its Sub-Saharan partner ecosystem, comprising 3 000 partners.

David Wang, president of the enterprise business group at Huawei, executive director of the board and chairman of ICT Infrastructure Managing Board, said the company’s optical national backbone is the digital highway for South Africa.

“We continue to build a national platform of digital networks,” said Wang.

Huawei used the event to announce a network connectivity partnership with Vumatel, touted as a first joint initiative of its kind in Sub Saharan Africa.

South African government representatives, in the context of the partnership in place with Huawei, expressed thir belief that IT infrastructure construction will promote sustainable social development and become a new driving force for economic growth.