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SKA to transform SA tech

The application of ICTs and collaboration between the government and the private sector, along with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project will make South Africa an active participant in the next evolution of the Internet, writes VERNON THAVER.

More than two thirds of South Africans live in urban areas and more make the move from rural areas daily. This means South African cities must become flexible and responsive to citizen needs, while making the most of public resources. Through the intelligent application of ICTs and collaboration between the government and the private sector, South Africa can be an active participant in the next evolution of the Internet, which we believe is the Internet of Everything (IoE).

We’ve already seen the positive and transformative effects the IoE has had in areas like city governments, manufacturing, retail and healthcare. It has allowed for new customer and citizen experiences, improved operational efficiencies, breakthrough innovations and entirely new economic models for services and growth. At the city level, this includes smart grid solutions, traffic management, parking solutions, physical and cyber security, and chronic disease management. At the citizen level, the value could come from payments, counterfeit drug programmes and teleworking. For enterprises, IoE can be the deployment of sensors that provide real-time data, when deployed with an overlay of pervasive data analytics, which allows for proactive responses to changing conditions.

And now, with the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, South Africa will be part of revolutionary, ground-breaking research that will see the IoE being applied to a brand new area – space research. The SKA is a natural extension of the IoE in that it will bring together people, processes, data and things to change outcomes and pioneer research in optical transport and big data – and South Africa will be at the forefront of these exciting developments.

The partnership between Cisco, the South African Department of Science and Technology, the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and the Square Kilometre Array has benefits far beyond the IoE. The SKA project has the potential to facilitate incredible scientific breakthroughs that require dramatic technology advances in both high-speed data transmission and in data analytics, which makes skills development a top priority – especially in the areas of optical transport mechanisms, central signal processing and software defined networking. Research in these areas have the potential to create new masters and PhD skills, which will be crucial for the economic success of the region as new industries emerge.

Carnavon, in the Northern Cape, will be the home of the SKA in South Africa. It is crucial that the local community is included in the economic benefits that the SKA will bring to South Africa in general. This means furnishing community members with basic and intermediate ICT and networking skills that they can use to gain employment in the SKA project or in adjacent industries that are created in support of the project.

The SKA project will also play a significant role in South Africa’s transformation by providing network-based technologies that allow organisations to innovate, drive new business models, increase productivity and, ultimately, create new jobs. This aligns with the South African government’s national economic growth plans, including the National Growth Path and the National Development Plan.

Crucial to this transformation is ubiquitous broadband deployment that is accessible by all. South Africa is well positioned for this change, with the most advanced network on the continent and ranking second in the sub-Saharan Africa region on the Networked Readiness Index. To ensure we achieve the required broadband penetration and that we develop the skills needed to manage these networks, as well as the SKA infrastructure, the private sector needs to work closely with the South African government in the areas of research and education, entrepreneurship and innovation, and the creation of economic clusters through which new and established businesses can gain access to export opportunities.

Although we are still in the early stages of the IoE opportunity, we estimate that the worldwide impact could run into trillions of dollars, with the potential for more than R150 billion in economic development for South Africa. The new experiences, environments and opportunities that will arise from the IoE will come with open APIs that create a new ecosystem for developers to create and deploy new applications in the market. The big data that these applications will use have the power to transform economies, make businesses more efficient and improve our daily interactions as consumers. Big data is the new oil, but like oil, it must be refined and analysed to be truly valuable. Big data is in its infancy and represents a huge opportunity for new players in the market.

These and other network-based technologies are helping to foster a new generation of productive and innovative borderless organisations that can respond quickly to market opportunities, participate in new global industries and offer customers a new level of service. They help to innovate, drive new business models, increase productivity, create new jobs and build an economically sustainable future.

Companies, countries, cities and institutions around the globe are just beginning to understand the opportunity created by the IoE. The SKA, which will help to transform these areas, positions South Africa for global investment and will revolutionise science and technology on the continent. Great things can be accomplished through long and mutually beneficial partnerships between the government and the private sector and the SKA is a perfect example of such a relationship.

* Vernon Thaver, Chief Technology Officer at Cisco South Africa

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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