The mobile revolution seems to be surging ahead in South Africa, but there is still a lot of work to be done to reap the full social and economic benefit of widespread ICR usage.
This is one of the findings of a recent Connectivity Scorecard study carried out by Nokia Siemens Networks.
The index measures the extent to which governments; businesses and consumers make use of connectivity technologies to enhance social and economic prosperity. South Africa emerged as an average performer within its peer group of “resource and efficiency-driven” economies, with a score of 5.26 (with 10 being the top). it showed progress in certain areas, such as mobile phone subscription levels and government use of information and communications technology.
The Connectivity Scorecard makes it clear, however, that for South Africa and South Africans to capture the full area potential for social and economic benefit inherent in the widespread distribution and adoption of ICT tools, there is much work remaining to be done.
In particular, the provision of fixed-line broadband infrastructure to consumers is weak, as is “usage and skills” in the business sector, even though provision of infrastructure, such as software and hardware in business is relatively good.
This discrepancy highlights one of the central issues raised by the Connectivity Scorecard: that investment in ICT infrastructure and tools alone is not sufficient for countries to device the full benefits of technology: they must also be used effectively.
South Africa’s position as a leader in the mobile revolution is clearly illustrated by a high mobile subscription rate. South Africa ranks just below Russia and Malaysia (the top two countries in the overall scoreboard) in terms of mobile phone subscriber levels; and with 96% of the population covered by mobile networks, South Africa finishes just below Mexico and ahead of Malaysia on this measure.
High mobile usage and infrastructure is one of the factors underlying South Africa’s high score overall on the category “consumer usage and skills”.
Other factors influencing this high score are consumer software spending and gender equality of access to the internet. South Africa’s government has also been active in the adoption of ICT, and the country scores well on both government infrastructure and usage.
The most glaring weakness in South Africa’s ICT ecosystem is in the business arena. While South Africa is strong in terms of business hardware and software spending, and also in secure internet servers per capita, the data suggests that deficiencies in work-force skills means that investment is not being matched by quality of usage.
That in large part is attributable to the level of education achieved in the workforce and the proportion within that that has completed primary school education at least.
Nokia Siemens Networks discussed the survey at a meeting held this week where telecommunications industry regulators, government officials, researchers, communications service providers and analysts met to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing the sector and what the various role players can do to accelerate the provision of telecommunication services to all people across southern Africa.
Dr I Da Silva, executive secretary of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Southern Africa spoke about the mandate to governments in the SADC region to connect the poor and the challenges they face – with the provision of affordable broadband infrastructure to consumers everywhere being one of the major tasks ahead.
A research paper presented by WITS University Professor Peter Chitamu, head of the Telecoms Unit at the Centre for Excellence, outlined a promising future for telecommunications in southern Africa – anticipating that providing access will grow from strength to strength in the next few years and continue to improve the lives of the poor in Southern Africa.
According to Linda Khumalo, head of sub-region southern Africa at Nokia Siemens Networks, “the key to extending telecommunications services across this region is to find innovative ways to affordably connect remote, rural areas. Access to mobile telephony and other telecommunications services such as the internet facilitate much better access to education; health benefits; job opportunities and a plethora of other advantages that empower people in their everyday lives – especially those who are distanced from the opportunities and benefits of living near or in a city with amenities and business opportunities.“