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SA readies 4IR blueprint

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Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.

The South African government is looking to develop a blueprint on the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

This is according to minister of communications and digital technologies Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, today in a budget vote speech themed: “Growing the economy and driving a digital society through the fourth industrial revolution”.

In April, the Presidency announced the 4IR commission, which comprises representatives of a cross-section of stakeholders, including public sector, business, telecoms, academia and research institutions, finance and SMMEs.

President Cyril Ramaphosa chairs the commission, while professor Tshilidzi Marwala, vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, serves as deputy chairman.

The commission is mandated to advise government on 4IR policies, develop a framework for implementation of a multi-sectoral 4IR strategy; and coordinate, monitor and evaluate multi-sectoral initiatives that will position South Africa as a globally competitive player in 4IR.

Last month, Ndabeni-Abrahams welcomed the first meeting of the presidential commission on 4IR as a step towards achieving its objectives.

“Within the next few months, the commission will engage with key stakeholders and the public, working towards the development of South Africa’s blueprint on 4IR,” said Ndabeni-Abrahams.

She noted SA’s response to the 4IR presents the country with a unique opportunity to harness its individual and collective talents, energies and strengths to decisively address the economic and social challenges the country faces.

“It presents an opportunity for all in society to participate in the digital economy, whether it be for social welfare or business interests; as creators or consumers of goods and services; and whether trading locally, regionally or internationally.”

However, she said the challenge is defining the strategic areas of investment in 4IR that will position SA as a leader in this revolution.

Ndabeni-Abrahams noted the merger of the ministries of communications and telecommunications and postal services into a single ministry of communications and digital technologies is designed to ensure better alignment and co-ordination on matters that are critical to the digital economy and 4IR.

On the issue of connecting SA, Ndabeni-Abrahams said to date, the department has facilitated broadband connectivity to 570 facilities, including schools and health facilities.

“This is in addition to what the industry is doing. For example, Telkom has about 160 000km of fibre, which will be critical as we move forward into the 4IR. Broadband Infraco has rolled out 15 000km of fibre and 147 points-of-presence throughout the country. Sentech has an extensive wireless network with more than 300 sites to deliver digital and broadband services,” the minister said.

“Going forward, the department will focus on rolling out broadband services to an additional 400 facilities, the majority of which will be schools and health facilities. Through ICASA [Independent Communications Authority of SA], we will also review the current universal service obligations to ensure alignment with SA Connect standards.”

During the medium-term, Ndabeni-Abrahams said, SA will review the download speeds to be in line with international best practice.

“This will form part of the work we are currently doing with the Development Bank of South Africa, which will be concluded by the end of the financial year.”

On the licensing of unassigned high-demand spectrum, she said government will within the next seven working days, issue the final policy and policy direction to ICASA.

“As the international ICT community prepares for the World Radio Conference that will be held in Egypt in October 2019, plans are afoot for South Africa’s participation in the discussions in SADC, Africa and International Fora to ensure that this time we are not left behind and do not delay our people and country the meaningful role they can play, as 5G is not only telecommunications-based but cuts across all sectors.”

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