South Africa’s Broadband Infraco is embarking on a landmark project to extend connectivity services into rural areas. Andrew Matseke and Phumza Dyani tell us more.
CONNECTING COMMUNITIES, TRANSFORMING LIVES
“Connectivity is essential for all South Africans. In fact, it is a basic requirement for every person to be able to fully participate in social and economic activities in our country and needs to be classified as a utility like water and electricity.
“The provision of connectivity is an exciting space and requires innovative solutions to increase access to as many people as possible.
“Hence the attraction to Broadband Infraco, for me, is mainly due to its role in South Africa’s ICT sector, and its mandate of providing connectivity to areas that include underdeveloped and underserviced areas. The ability to make a difference in the lives of fellow citizens is fulfilling for me.”
Andrew Matseke is an ardent believer in technology’s power to do good.
Now serving as Chief Executive Officer for the aforementioned Broadband Infraco, he first came into contact with the industry during his studies at the University of Cape Town and is quick to appreciate the fast-moving nature of the telecommunications sector.
So too is Phumza Dyani, the company’s Chief Marketing Officer.
“What keeps on inspiring me is the dynamism of the industry” she says. “There are shifts taking place all the time.
The country, as a whole, is making strides in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) capacitation at a national level, with government driving the social agenda of inclusivity for all.
“This implies deployment of massive infrastructure into rural areas, enabling all communities to be connected. This is important to us as we see the social benefits of the industry”
On the commercial side, beyond the aggregation of the industry, there is a radical shift of the competitive landscape with former customers being competitors as well a move to expand the telecoms Service offering. As an example, over the top (OTT) providers, who in the past have relied on operators, are now investing in their own infrastructure and changing the business models to include infrastructure commercial offerings.
“Further, as more content is becoming available in South Africa, there is an escalating demand for fibre as well as Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas.
Indeed, this is the overriding objective behind Broadband Infraco’s SA Connect project, a programme designed to boost rural connectivity in partnership with the South African government.
This nature of work is, for Dyani, a standout characteristic of the firm.
“We have both the commercial and a social mandate,” she says. “SA Connect is one of our flagship projects that achieves just that, connecting government facilities to improve people’s lives.”
Targeting health and education facilities in particular, the scheme aims to achieve universal access to vital services and has already been making profound progress in rapid time.
“The project is delivered in phases,” Dyani continues, “with 6,135 sites planned for phase one. By the end of the project, over 40,000 sites will be completed. Currently, more than 480 sites have been deployed, with a target of 700 to be completed by July 2019.
“Beyond the success of on time execution is the impact we see, tangibly, in the lives of the young learners and the prospects of change in health facilities.”
“I am also encouraged by the initiatives of private sector connectivity providers, who are rolling out FTTX (fibre to the premises) projects that include townships and secondary towns,” adds Matsebe.
“This builds a foundation for digital inclusivity, and when we aggregate these private sector initiatives with the plans of entities such as Broadband Infraco, the outlook is good for the future of connectivity and the digital transformation of South Africa.”
Connecting rural areas also carries tremendous benefits for smaller businesses, a number of which have been engaged in the roll out of SA Connect.
“We have aspirations to develop our work with SMEs further,” says Dyani. “We look at doing this in a number of ways, including allocation of existing work according to the capabilities of the SME, upskilling to benefit from the value chain, and integrating their offerings as part of our product and service range.
“There are many competent SMEs in South Africa and we are doing all we can to ensure their success. These companies are instrumental to the country’s development, and we can give them access to markets which would not have been possible.
“In the first quarter of 2018, the SME sector provided employment to nearly 8.9 million South Africans. Imagine the success of this as more and more SMEs start to thrive due to improved access to markets.”
Matseke further adds the importance of working with multinationals who in turn support smaller enterprise and the upskilling of local people, emphasising the need for public and private sector cooperation to make the most out of the fourth industrial revolution.
“This involves the development of niche solutions that serve specific market segments,” he explains, “and we are finding that some of the solutions that we are developing achieve success faster when we partner with local companies that are already involved in the development of digital solutions that address customer specific needs.”
Indeed, the SA Connect project has involved close collaboration between public and private entities.
Broadband Infraco is using private and public-sector network service providers for the last mile between its PoPs (points of presence) and the facilities being connected under the programme. This model has proven itself so far, and has provided a template that Matseke would like to see adopted by the industry for future connectivity initiatives.
Expanding connectivity across the country is just one element of Broadband Infraco’s agenda, however.
Matseke highlights plans towards the organic growth of the company’s own network business, an initiative which is complimentary to the implementation of SA Connect.
A key part of these plans is to ensure that Infraco has redundancy on its core network routes, including the routes to the borders with all of the neighbouring countries it serves.
“We are also planning to deploy an IP Layer across our entire network,” Matseke says. “Currently this is only available in the ‘golden triangle’ between Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.”
Dyani also points to the need to monitor closely developments in areas such as IoT, big data and artificial intelligence, the company assessing what investments to make and strategic alliances to pursue in these subsectors.
But development of these technologies will join up with Broadband Infraco’s mission to open up connectivity solutions to all, and in some cases help to enable it.
Matseke concludes by outlining his priorities for the rest of 2019 and reinforcing the importance of providing these opportunities for all across South Africa.
“Our objectives include the rollout of SA Connect, the expansion of our network footprint to reach areas of South Africa that are not sufficiently covered, the upgrade of the capacity in our core network, the expansion of our IP network, and the use of these network enhancements to improve the service offering to our customers.
“We would like to use this foundation to make our solutions relevant to the demands of the market. This is what will improve the success and sustainability of our business, which in turn will boost connectivity across the country.
“Connectivity is one of the key drivers of economic growth and is an enabler of social and economic inclusivity. If we are to prosper as a nation and to address the historical challenges of poverty and inequality, we need to have inclusive connectivity that covers both the urban and rural parts of South Africa.”