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Minister challenges fibre industry to service marginalised areas

Read time 3min 50sec
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.
Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister of communications and digital technologies.

Government and industry need to work together to ensure wall-to-wall deployment of fibre infrastructure so that all South Africans, especially those in rural areas, have access to fibre.

This was the word from communications and digital technologies minister, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, addressing fibre industry leaders at this year’s FTTx Council Africa Conference at the Sandton Convention Centre.

This year the theme for the conference, bringing together leaders in the fibre industry, explores the world of fibre and 5G, as well as the impact on the industry and the investment opportunities it holds for the continent.

“The future that we brag about and say is ‘too bright’ requires us to bridge the digital divide. Digital inclusion is at the centre of everything,” Ndabeni-Abrahams stated.

“Just like we are able to say people must get 20 or 100 litres of water a day…government has to introduce incentives to encourage the fibre industry to go to the areas it shies away from because it doesn’t make profit sense.

“We understand deployment of infrastructure is costly, which is why we are saying we’ve got to work together.”

The minister elaborated that along with values of leadership, accountability, collaboration, diversity and quality; fibre forms one of the key pillars which will establish the next generation of connectivity and is a critical enabler for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

“Today, we know that fibre is potentially the most critical component of all telecommunications infrastructure. We have come to realise that without fibre, we will not enter the 5G race.”

Referencing data from the FTTx Council, she said as at the end of June 2019, about 1.5 million end points have been passed, with a total of over 600 000 connections, comprising of over 496 000 homes that are connected and billed, and over 114 000 business premises.

“These are truly impressive numbers; however, we are also alive to the fact that we are still only scratching the tip of the iceberg. I have engaged with operators who are in agreement that the amount of fibre that we currently have in place is not nearly adequate to serve the future needs of the telecommunications industry.

“Further, whilst acknowledging the R100 billion investment that the industry has made so far, we believe that to achieve our 5G vision, that at least six to eight times more fibre must be deployed.”

Championing 4IR

Ndabeni-Abrahams also pointed out that as debates 4IR happen, the primary focus is to get people and things connected.

Since her appointment, the minister has dedicated attention to all things Industry 4.0, coining the now-popular phrase "building a capable 4IR army". She believes it is important to build capacity for the 4IR by making sure the workforce is ready for the revolution.

President Cyril Ramaphosa also designated Ndabeni-Abrahams's department to co-ordinate government's 4IR programme.

There can never be a meaningful fourth industrial revolution if our people are not connected and a capable 4IR army if there are no skills, she stated.

“One thing about the fourth industrial revolution is that it wants us to do away with the siloed mentality of thinking that I can do it on my own.

“4IR is about recognising the opportunities. As much as you can come up with your new technologies, if fibre is not there or you do not have reliable connectivity, it will not make a meaningful impact.”

At the same event, industry CEOs signed the Industry Stakeholder Principles of Excellence.

The document was signed by the minister as well as CEOs and heads of companies that include Metro Fibre Networks, Altron, Liquid Telecoms SA, Dark Fibre Africa, Frogfoot Networks, Vodacom and MTN.

Working with government and other stakeholders, the industry leaders have committed to:

*Strive to achieve digital inclusion,

*Ongoing investment and contribution to job creation,

*Development and support of SMMEs, start-ups and entrepreneurs,

*Ongoing commitment to innovation and research and development,

*Contribution to the African continent as a whole,

*Ethics in doing business,

*Cooperation and collaboration,

*Commitment to the next generation of mobile technology, and

*Environmental consideration.

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