Kathy Gibson reports from the Ericsson Business Innovation Forum in Stockholm – Johannesburg ranks 29th out of 40 cities studied for the 2014 Networked Society Cities Index.

Despite the relatively poor showing in the Index, Johannesburg has seen increased ICT maturity since last year’s study, ad ranks ahead of both Cairo and Lagos, the other African cities measured.

The Index measures a city’s ICT in terms of infrastructure, affordability and usage, but also examines the triple bottom line of social, economic and environmental factors.

The Index demonstrates that cities around the world are seeing rapid changes in the their implementation of technology and its uptake by people in urban centres, as cities shift towards the networked society.

Although there has been an improvement in city infrastructure, the real change in the uptake of technology has been its affordability, with tariffs and IP transit prices seeing major declines over the last year.

In addition, there has been a shift in the way people access the Internet, with tablets and smartphones driving new usage models, while social media is changing the way people interact with one another.

Developing cities are seeing a faster rate of change in their ICT infrastructure and ICT usage, according to the Index. They also have the advantage of being able to leapfrog technology and avoid being tied to legacy systems.

However, developing cities still have the most unaffordable Internet access, with Johannesburg singled out – with Mexico City and Buenos Aires – as cities that risk falling behind if action isn’t taken to increase affordability.

Despite this, Johannesburg shows higher levels of ITCT usage compared to its affordability; and also achieves better performance in ICT usage compare to its infrastructure – and this is largely driven by the massive uptake in mobile technology.

“Lagos and Johannesburg provide good examples of cities where the populations, in the absence of well-developed fixed infrastructure, use new mobile technologies to enable a connected life, including the use of social networks and mobile payments,” the Index points out.

“These cities have the opportunity to pass others by, for example, choosing not to set up formal banking systems and other expensive physical infrastructures and instead using advanced mobile technologies.”

Johannesburg, along with Lagos, performs badly when it comes to inclusion, with a low ratio of women compared to men who are connected.

Networked cities have the opportunity to perform better on a number of fronts: social, economic and environmental, with ICT offering solutions to many of the current and future challenges facing cities.

It’s not a coincidence that cities which perform well on the Networked Society Cities Index also rank highly in terms of economic competitiveness.