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SA ICT leads region but global rank falls

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South Africa has seen a drop in its global ranking for information and communications technology, despite being described as being at the forefront of the region.

South Africa has dropped from 88th place in global ICT development index (IDI) to 92, according to the ninth edition of the annual Measuring the Information Society Report. The report was released this week by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the United Nations Specialized agency for information and communication technology (ICT).

This is despite the fact that the report states that South Africa is at the forefront of the region’s technological development with the latest broadband technologies and wide coverage.

“This has been enabled by a suitable regulatory framework and a competitive private sector-driven market,” says the ITU. “Cost remains an issue due to significant duplication in backbone networks, with a need to move to a cost-based open access regime.”

However, South Africa lags behind Mauritius (72) and Seychelles (90) in the IDI rankings.

Globally, says the ITU,  concurrent advances in the Internet of Things, big data analytics, cloud computing and artificial intelligence will enable tremendous innovations and fundamentally transform business, government and society – ultimately serving to improve livelihoods around the globe.

“This revolution will unfold,” the report states, “over the coming decades with opportunities, challenges, and implications that are not yet fully known. To harness these benefits, countries will need to create conditions supportive to the deployment of next-generation network and service infrastructures. They will also have to adopt policies that are conducive to experimentation and innovation, while mitigating potential risks to information security, privacy, and employment.”

“This year’s report shows that ICTs have the potential to make the world a better place and contribute immensely to the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “However, despite the overall progress achieved, the digital divide remains a challenge which needs to be addressed. This is important because information and communication technology and the digital economy have the potential to transform the lives of billions of men, women and children. The digital revolution can transform nations — entire continents – but only if digital resources are accessible. This report will help to support countries to do just that.”

“It is my hope that this report will be of great value to the ITU membership, particularly for  policy-makers, the ICT industry and others working towards the building of an inclusive global information society,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which produces the report each year. “Fully harnessing the economic and social benefits of the digital revolution requires efficient and affordable physical infrastructures and services, more advanced user skills, and internationally comparable benchmarks and indicators to support enabling public policies.”

SUMMARY OF REPORT FINDINGS:

ICT development index – country ranking

The ITU ICT Development Index 2017 (IDI 2017) featured in the MIS report is a unique benchmark of the level of ICT development in countries across the world. Iceland tops the IDI 2017 rankings. It is followed by two countries and one economy in the Asia and the Pacific region, and six other countries in Europe, which have competitive ICT markets that have experienced high levels of ICT investment and innovation over many years.

The IDI has up to now been based on 11 indicators. However, recent developments in ICT markets have led to the review of those indicators. As a result of that review, in 2018 the index will be defined by 14 indicators that should add further insights into the performance of individual countries and the relative performance of countries at different development levels.

Measuring ICT development

The latest data on ICT development show continued progress in connectivity and use of ICTs. There has been sustained growth in the availability of communications in the past decade, led by growth in mobile cellular telephony and, more recently, in mobile-broadband. Growth in fixed and mobile-broadband infrastructure has stimulated Internet access and use. The number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide now exceeds 50 per 100 population, enabling improved access to the Internet and online services.

In spite of the rapid expansion of ICTs, there are substantial digital divides between countries and regions. However, there has been registered progress in ICT growth by least developed countries, in terms of connectivity as well as the use of the Internet. Globally, more than half of households worldwide now have access to the Internet, though the rate of growth appears to have fallen below 5 per cent a year. There has also been significant progress in terms of bridging the gender digital divide across the regions.

Emerging ICT trends

The Internet of Things will greatly expand the digital footprint. In addition to connecting people, organizations and information resources, it will also connect objects equipped with digital information and with sensing, processing and communication capabilities. This ubiquitous infrastructure will generate abundant data that can be utilized to achieve efficiency gains in the production and distribution of goods and services, and to improve human life in innovative ways.

Big data analytics will extract useful knowledge from this flow of digital information. It will drive better understanding and predictions of ICT developments, as well as improved management and policy decisions. Making sense of proliferating information requires a workforce with appropriate analytical, computational, methodological skills and a high-capacity ICT infrastructure.

Cloud and other architectures will likely lower the entry barriers to scalable computing resources. They are starting to deliver flexible and on-demand computational services over the Internet, lowering the fixed-cost of ICT infrastructure, to the benefit of small- and medium-sized organizations. Realizing their full potential will depend on the availability of reliable fixed and mobile broadband connectivity.

Artificial intelligence will aid humans to make better decisions. In order to achieve this goal, each algorithm needs to be tailored carefully to existing data and the objectives pursued. This requires considerable human expertise in machine learning and large datasets to train algorithms.

All of these advanced ICTs contribute to realizing the critically important United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). Promising applications already exist in areas such as manufacturing, precision agriculture, government, education, health care, smart cities and smart transportation. As part of broader initiatives, ICTs can contribute to achieving  each of the 17 SDGs.

Harnessing the benefits of advanced ICTs requires appropriate infrastructures, services and skills. Networks will have to support diverse quality-of-service demands from applications and users while delivering robust and ubiquitous connectivity. This will require the roll-out of wireless Internet of Things platforms, and relying on network virtualization and improved fiber connectivity. Moreover, it will require the development of advanced ICT skills among users.

Advanced ICTs raise important concerns over next-generation digital divides. Network operators and users will have to adapt their business models to take advantage of the opportunities of the digital transformation. Thus, policy makers and regulators are called upon to create conditions facilitating entrepreneurial experiments and innovation.

Policy will also have to mitigate challenges to information security, privacy, employment and income inequality. Specific local and national needs also need to be taken into account. In many parts of the digital economy, low entry barriers can empower local entrepreneurs to develop innovative business models adapted to local conditions. It will be important to facilitate the development of culturally sensitive human-centered algorithms and applications.

Reliable and meaningful measurements of the deployment and use of advanced ICTs are critical. Fully harnessing the potential benefits of this progress requires reliable and meaningful metrics that go beyond existing data. This will require strong efforts of collaboration among various stakeholders and the development of new approaches to harvest information directly from digital infrastructures and applications.

Regional comparisons

There are considerable differences between geographic regions in the levels of ICT development as demonstrated by the IDI 2017. There is also significant variation in the experience of individual countries within each region – with these differences mainly associated with levels of economic development.

The average value for Africa in the IDI 2017 is 2.64 points. Mauritius, ranks in the upper half of the global IDI distribution. The region includes two of the three countries, which achieved the most dynamic improvements in their IDI value over the year – Namibia and Gabon.

The United States and Canada top the IDI 2017 ranking in the Americas region. The majority of countries in the region fall within the two middle quartiles. The most significant improvements in the Americas region were recorded by middle-ranking countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean.

The Arab States region is also very diverse in terms of IDI 2017 performance. This region includes a number of, high-income economies, including three countries Bahrain, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. The strongest improvements in this region were seen in middle-income countries, whose average value rose by more than twice that of countries at the top and bottom of the regional distribution.

Seven economies in the Asia and the Pacific region have IDI 2017 values above 7.50 points and rank within the highest quartile, including the Republic of Korea which is ranked second overall. Six countries improved their IDI values by more than 0.40 points, led by the second most dynamic country in IDI 2017, the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), only one country in the region, Belarus, is in the top quartile of the IDI 2017 ranking. The most dynamic countries in terms of IDI value were those at the bottom of the regional rankings – Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Europe has the highest average IDI 2017 value among world regions (7.50 points). As many as 28 of its 40 countries rank within the highest quartile. The most substantial improvements in value were recorded by Cyprus and Turkey.

Country profiles

This year’s report features – for the first time – country profiles highlighting the ICT market structure and the latest developments in 192 economies worldwide. Each profile includes an overview of the policy and regulatory initiatives undertaken as well as the current status of network roll-out and service uptake. These profiles are presented in Volume II of this year’s report.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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