Increasing broadband and mobile connections to catalyse dramatic positive change in South Africa


By Vernon Thaver, Chief Technology Officer, Cisco Systems South Africa

By the end of 2014, 43.4 million South Africans, or 82% of the population, were mobile users. According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast for 2014 to 2019, this was up 5% from 2013, when South Africa had 41.2 million mobile users, a figure that is projected to grow to 48.2 million by 2019.

Cisco has often advocated the use of mobile technologies and the Internet of Everything (IoE) to drive positive change in societies, including equal access to education, improved service delivery and uncovering new revenue streams for businesses and governments. This requires ubiquitous access to affordable broadband connectivity, which can be best supplied to all areas of South Africa through public-private partnerships (PPPs).

Broadband has become an increased priority with the president announcing that 2015 will mark the beginning of the first phase of broadband rollout, as outlined in the National Infrastructure Plan. The South African government clearly understands the opportunity that pervasive mobile reach presents in terms of communicating directly with citizens and expanding its services.

Cisco is committed to promoting equal access to education, information and resources. This can only be achieved through increased connectivity, which brings with it a need for more skills to not only use these technologies but to manage the increasing number of connections presented by the IoE.

However, research suggests that the greater the Internet user base in a country, the larger the gap in networking skills. PPPs play a critical role in providing and developing these skill sets – an area that Cisco places a great deal of focus and energy on. Cisco's Networking Academies have trained more than 34 000 South African students in a variety of in-demand ICT skills, with between 80% and 85% of graduates finding full-time employment soon after leaving the Academies.

Cisco has also committed to introducing another 200 Networking Academies into government schools and Further Education and Training (FET) colleges over the next two years. We believe that the responsibility of skills development cannot lie only with the government. It is up to the private sector to help supply and fund the development of skills needed to realise a connected future.

These skills are crucial if South Africa is to effectively support and benefit from the expected 11-fold increase in mobile traffic between now and 2019 at a compound annual growth rate of 63%. Data creation and use is about to explode in South Africa and it will be driven predominantly by mobile devices, but if we don't have the skills to manage the connections that are producing this information, South Africa will fall behind in a number of areas, including innovation and economic growth.

An often-quoted World Bank report suggests that each 10 percentage points of broadband penetration results in a 1.38% increase in per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth in developing countries.

But it's not just the economy that benefits from increased connectivity. Readily available broadband has huge potential to catalyse positive change for all South African citizens, businesses and government entities. It will provide access to the resources needed to foster a more informed and educated society, which in turn supports innovation and job creation.

This will be especially beneficial to SMEs, entrepreneurs and the start-up community in South Africa. SMEs are important contributors to the economy and play a huge role in reducing unemployment. Some researchers have estimated the total economic output of SMEs in South Africa to be 50% of gross domestic product (GDP) while employing about 60% of the labour force.

As more South Africans come online and as we witness an increase in smart connections and mobile and data traffic, it's vital that the supporting infrastructure is in place. The National Infrastructure Plan is a giant leap in the right direction, as are PPPs such as the Cisco Networking Academies.

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