The Department of Science &  Technology (DST) has partnered with Nokia to implement a number of information & communication technology (ICT) projects in South Africa, targeted at providing a thrust for innovation and growth across the country.

This follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) by the DST and Nokia, establishing a framework on which potential areas of collaboration can be developed, funded and implemented.

Addressing the media on this partnership, the Minister of Science & Technology, Naledi Pandor, acknowledged the role of ICT in stimulating economic growth. “This is why the DST is leading the implementation of the national ICT research, development and innovation strategy. In this regard, we view public-private partnerships to be of importance for us in achieving this objective,” she says.

One of the key expected outcomes of this plan is an innovative indigenous ICT industry that addresses South Africa’s ICT needs in the public and private sectors, and attracts investment by multinationals involved in innovation and manufacturing.

In addition to a significant increase in the number of postgraduate students at Masters and PhD levels, these R&D outputs are gradually evolving into near-market prototypes, large-scale technology demonstrators and packaged solutions that can readily address key priorities of government, such as education, health and enhanced citizen interaction with government.

Jussi Hinkkanen, vice-president for government relations at Nokia Middle East & Africa, says South Africa has a thriving telecommunication industry with a lot of potential for disruptive innovation.

“Our objective is to support local talent in developing their skills, and then integrate them into both regional and global markets,” says Hinkkanen. In addition to stimulating entrepreneurial activity and high technological innovation, the collaboration intends to stimulate the interest of South African learners, cultivating the scientists and engineers of tomorrow.

The GM for Nokia in South Africa, Gerard Brandjes, adds: “As South Africa’s leading mobile company, it is our responsibility to identify areas where our technical skills can facilitate the development of society. We hope the educational focus under this collaboration will motivate thousands of South African learners to explore careers in technology.”

Some key focus areas covered in the MOU include:

* Basic Sciences Education Support Programmes: In conjunction with the Department of Basic Education, the DST and the Meraka Institute of the Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR), programmes aimed at improved delivery of educational services through the use of mobile devices are being implemented. These include the Mobile Learning for Maths and Nokia Education Delivery initiatives which were created to assist in the education of tens of thousands of South African learners.

* Mobile applications laboratory: This is a joint initiative between the DST, infoDev, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Finland) and Nokia that intends to train and build both the business and technical capabilities of the developer community. This will help them develop locally relevant content, solutions and services, and connect them to local, regional and international markets.

* Access to broadband networks for communities: Through Nokia Siemens Network and the CSIR, the parties will explore ways to enhance access to ICT for rural communities and support the wireless mesh network project.

* Support of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid: Through Nokia Siemens Network, the Africa SKA Project Office and the DST, the parties will continue to seek ways to enhance collaboration on large-scale computing, data transport and sensor networks in support of the African SKA bid; a project that is expected to revolutionise the ICT industry in terms of data processing and sensor networks.

“’Nokia Siemens Networks is using its global expertise in telecommunications and in-depth knowledge of the local South African market to advise the SKA bid teams, from both a technical and business perspective, about the best options to transport the huge volumes of generated data to the high-performance computer centre of the SKA. We have been involved in the project from the start, supporting and advising the project team on all technical requirements, capacity planning, provisioning and skills,” says Rufus Andrew, MD of Nokia Siemens Networks South Africa.