In a paradoxical twist, our journey into the future starts with a retrospective glance at innovation’s history – a lesson in the timeless art of collaboration, writes Tholo Lerotholi, co-founder of Merge X.

Think Thomas Edison, popularly known as the father of invention, this is how far innovation collaboration is traced. His most famous inventions include telecommunications devices like the automatic telegraph, the carbon telephone transmitter and phonograph.

Less popularly known is that Edison’s real genius lay in improving on existing ideas. Consider the evolution of the lightbulb: a year before Thomas Edison’s invention, in 1879 Joseph Swan invented a lightbulb, but it wasn’t commercially viable.

In 1880, after much testing, Edison came up with a solution that is very close to the lightbulbs we still use today. Edison and Swan both applied for patents in 1880 and after ensuing litigation, the feud ended in 1883 when they formed a joint company.

An innovation on its own only becomes meaningful when it becomes commercially viable and accessible to a majority. And commercial viability is only sustainable when there are operational efficiencies.

Niche ISPs and the evolution of ICT

In the ever-evolving realm of ICT, the convergence of fibre network operators (FNO) and Internet service providers (ISPs) has become the crucible of transformative change.

In a dynamic landscape ripe with opportunities for those who dare to innovate, the role of ISPs lies with one pivotal component: the billing infrastructure. This infrastructure not only streamlines operations but also paves the way for novel business models.

Previously regarded as an unfeasible offering in the fixed connectivity environment, pre-paid services (also built by ISPs) now cater to a diverse range of consumer needs.

This is where the ISP plays a crucial role, navigating the intricate dynamic between consumer demands and technological capabilities.

Regulatory challenges and opportunities

However, the winds of change blow not only from the realm of technological innovation but also from the corridors of regulatory mandates.

Regulatory bodies such as the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) shape the landscape within which ICT entities operate. The recent mandate on ownership equity is but one example, presenting both challenges and opportunities for industry players.

In this ever-evolving environment, the industry can ill-afford to pay lip service to concepts such as adaptability – it is simply a prerequisite for survival.

Businesses must find their way through the regulatory landscape, charting a course that ensures compliance while also seizing emerging opportunities. This requires an impartial understanding of regulations and a strategic vision that anticipates and embraces change.

The role of Merge X

By enabling ISPs to innovate in a cost-effective manner, Merge X makes it possible for businesses to not only comply with regulatory requirements but also foster a more inclusive and diverse industry.