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Joint broadband initiative to edge SA to gigabit society

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 28 Aug 2023
From left: Africa Analysis MD Andre Wills, Huawei SA CEO Will Meng, communications minister Mondli Gungubele, and Digital Council Africa CEO Juanita Clark. (Photograph by DCDT)
From left: Africa Analysis MD Andre Wills, Huawei SA CEO Will Meng, communications minister Mondli Gungubele, and Digital Council Africa CEO Juanita Clark. (Photograph by DCDT)

The Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT) and Huawei South Africa have jointly introduced a broadband development initiative.

The move, they say, aims to advance the country’s fibre broadband deployment, as well as lay the foundation for the development of the digital economy.

The initiative forms part of the DCDT and Huawei SA’s recently-signed cooperation to advance the country’s ICT development agenda and share “global best practices”.

On Friday, Huawei and the department kicked-off the cooperation agreement with a focus on two key areas: broadband development and assisting small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to build technical capacity.

Referencing a World Bank report, Huawei SA CEO Will Meng said every 10% increase in fibre broadband penetration will drive a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 1.5%.

As a result, the development of broadband networks plays a great role in promoting the country, society, economy and connected life, he noted.

“To meet the strong demands of the digital economy, we need to accelerate the development of fibre broadband in South Africa, raise public and industry awareness of the value and importance of fibre broadband development, and encourage industry partners to invest more in fibre broadband,” Meng explained.

“Our broadband development initiative will help us move towards a gigabit society in South Africa. Fibre broadband will improve social connectivity, promote industrial transformation and enable the digital economy.”

The other key areas of cooperation will cover digital economy and industry digitisation; data, cloud and digital government development; talent development; and innovation.

During his keynote address, DCDT minister Mondli Gungubele said SA has to take advantage of the technological advancements to unlock the hidden economic and human capital potential, and boost SME support.

Mondli Gungubele, minister in the Department ofCommunications and Digital Technologies. (Photograph by DCDT)
Mondli Gungubele, minister in the Department ofCommunications and Digital Technologies. (Photograph by DCDT)

However, these technologies must have some sort of social impact for the people of South Africa, Gungubele added.

“People are not interested in broadband or technology; their interest is on how it changes their lives. They only fall in love with it once it confirms its relevance in their lives.

The minister provided the example of a small business acquiring stock online, rather than having to travel kilometres to get stock. “Access to broadband means that you get to sit at home, press a button and your stock arrives. This results in lower costs, better margins.

“Suddenly, you’ve got a broad space to decide where you want to buy your stock and you can compare. In other words, life has changed.”

He emphasised that life has transformed so much that experts advise the digital economy is faster than the current day-to-day calculations. “We are actually moving behind; sometimes we are delaying it. I’ve realised that we are delaying it.

“I’ve been able to take a risk, DG [Nonkqubela Jordan-Dyani], and say even 2030 of the NDP [National Development Plan] is too late. We can no longer be talking about working for 2030 targets; the world has moved.”

SME advancement

Gungubele noted that a key pillar of the partnership between Huawei and the DCDT is enhancing human capital development in the country, especially among SMEs.

“We, as government, are committed in building a skilled SME sector that can advance the digital economy in our country, as well as servicing the continent. We want to position our country as Africa’s digital hub.

“As government, we see a strategic role that SMEs can play in growing the GDP. SMEs are fundamental enablers of the digital economy.

“This translates into the following: new jobs, new ways of people living in the society, better quality education and health, better future for the youth, as well as better living for the elderly.”

The digital skills training for SMEs aspect of the cooperation will ensure they are equipped to start their digital transformation journey and take a digital-first approach to business, noted Meng.

“SMEs are key to job creation and economic growth in South Africa. Women entrepreneurs and women-owned micro businesses traditionally play a critical role in South African society and by extension the economy. Yet, women-led enterprises in South Africa still make up only 21% of the formal SME sector.

“We believe that as digital infrastructure expands, it will improve this picture and that change will be rapid and tangible, so we are excited to partner with the DCDT on this SME skills training, and contributing to that vision for a digital economy.”

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