The event, which took place at The Central Grill, Cedar Square in Fourways, Johannesburg, is the first bi-monthly dinner series created by an ICT publication, with the sole purpose of providing executives with networking opportunities, industry information and the tools to effectively strategize and create successful partnerships.
Stephen Newton, Country Manager for Google South Africa, renowned ICT analyst and CEO of World Wide Worx, Arthur Goldstuck and Magnus Mchunguzi, Managing Director, Ericsson were amongst the speakers and participants at the exclusive event, whose theme, “Connecting Africa to the world”, lead to interesting debates on broadband usage, mobile connectivity and ISP price war in South Africa.
In the opening address, Abby Wakama, founder and publisher of ITNewsAfrica.com, invited the high-profile guests to discuss the latest innovations in connectivity and their impact on the continent.
“Over 16 years, Ericsson witnessed mobile connectivity in Africa reaching almost 50% penetration, but the question remains how to reach rural communities.”, commented Magnus Mchunguzi, Managing Director, Ericsson.
“We often undersell ourselves in terms of what we have done in bringing connectivity to the African people. That is why we are here today to get and share ideas to take this further”, added Aingharan Kanagaratnam, Head of Network Solutions, Ericsson.
Arthur Goldstuck, CEO World Wide Worx, noted that Internet penetration in South Africa, as an example, remains still lower than mobile penetration, at only 11% of the population, covering 5,3 million people, the majority in large corporations.
“The government aims to bring broadband to every South African home by 2019. If the growth of 15% registered in 2010 is maintained, by 2019 the coverage would be around 40% only. We’re not going to see big results unless we have a vision for rapid growth and, as Magnus suggested, start with the optic fibre first in mind when developing”, he said.
“A lot of people confuse innovation with dazzling high-tech products like Apple’s iPad, for example. This sends a dangerous message, as we tend to get trapped in innovation in an Apple-like world. We tend to be seduced by this kind of vision. We should instead find routes to innovation in Africa and promote simple, effective solutions like the ability to receive useful information on the cellphone”, explained Goldstuck, citing the example of the farmers in Cameroon who use mobile services to enhance productivity and crop sales.
“Google’s mission is to make information universally accessible. The majority of Africans still don’t have access to the Internet- which should be a right, not a privilege. I would like to see Google more involved on the continent – we often hide in a modern cocoon and forget the hidden opportunities”, commented Stephen Newton, Country Manager for Google South Africa.
He highlighted the availability of Gmail’s chat and SMS features in Africa and the implementation of a search database available via SMS for the health and agriculture departments in Uganda.
Connecting Africa can’t be done without a good understanding of languages and cultures on the continent, a topic often forgotten by ICT providers.
“In South Africa, about half of the population speaks an Nguni language and no English. We have to empower people to produce African content, in local languages too. Sadly, you might find more African-developed content outside of Africa”, concluded Dwayne Bailey, Director at translate.org.za.
The discussions ended with a dinner attended by representatives from HP, Integr8, GijimaAst, Neotel, Intelsat, Nokia Siemens Networks, Huawei and Virtual Works Africa, amongst others.
by Denisa Oosthuizen