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March 12, 2019

Unlocking the airwaves for economic growth

By Ian Houvet, Director, Boxfusion

At the beginning of February, President Ramaphosa took to parliament to deliver his second State of the Nation address. For many South Africans, this was a refreshing update on the intentions of government, and not just because there were no walk-outs, heckling or interruptions.

For those of us playing in the local tech space, it was a noteworthy SONA, because the president delivered the most technologically-focussed address this country has encountered to date. Not only did President Ramaphosa discuss the much-anticipated spectrum auction, but he also flagged the need to embed technology in our basic education system and ensure that historically disadvantaged communities have access to incubation hubs and broadband, so that they too can partake in the digital economy.

The future of 4G

The key to unlocking much of the country’s digital potential lies in the auctioning of the spectrum. The auction has been delayed by disagreements between government and ICASA on how to proceed, but during SONA, President Ramaphosa indicated that policy uncertainty had been clarified, paving the way for the much-needed spectrum allocation. This is expected to take place by April 2019, and while this will attract many of the large existing players in the industry, it has great potential to increase internet access for more of the population.

The hope is that by opening up the 4G airwaves (along with the promise of 5G in 2020, which is already being tested by several mobile operators in the country), the prohibitive prices of internet access (and data, as we all are aware) should fall. This was further reinforced by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in his inaugural Budget Speech.

A transformation like this one will ensure that more ordinary South Africans are able to use high-speed internet, which in turn impacts on the ability of small businesses to function, and citizens to be connected to digital resources, such as online education and e-government services like Boxfusion’s Smartgov for Citizens app.

Increasing the power of mobile

It’s long been known that mobile technology is expanding rapidly across the continent, more so than anywhere else in the world. Sub-Saharan Africa alone already has 420 million unique mobile subscribers, and is expected to hit half a billion by next year. With greater access to high-speed and affordable internet, through lower data prices and greater spectrum allocation, South Africans can engage and empower themselves through the ubiquitous smart-and-feature phone technology that is already so prevalent across the country.

According to the Groupe Spéciale Mobile Association (GSMA), mobile technologies generated $110bn of GDP across the region in 2017. In his SONA, President Ramaphosa acknowledged the ability of the telecommunications industry to unlock and grow South Africa’s economic potential, which starts with opening up the airwaves.

While it remains to be seen whether regulators and government will meet their self-imposed deadline of April this year, local tech companies, like Boxfusion, will continue to develop solutions that ensure government can take South Africa boldly forward into the 4th Industrial Revolution.