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How Close Are We to an Inclusive Internet in South Africa?

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Luis Monzon
Luis Monzon
Journalist. Reach me at

The Internet has changed our lives, transforming the way we work, learn and have fun.

During the pandemic, network traffic increased between 25% and 45%: 100 countries adopted confinement plans, 1.2 billion students switched to online learning and 60% of companies had more than half of the employees work remotely.

Remote Work Leads to Better Productivity in Digitally Transformed Companies

According to Remote Working in South Africa 2020, a study conducted among 400 enterprises by World Wide Worx for Cisco Systems, the shift to remote working led to improved productivity for only 29% of companies, in general.

However, among companies that had already fully rolled out digital transformation strategies, productivity leapt by a massive 70%.

Globally, the internet went from being important to critical for almost everyone. Video conferencing became a lifeline for work, studying and personal connections, and internet traffic spiked by 25 to 45% in many regions.

“The speedy adoption of remote working precipitated by lockdowns was seen the world over,” explains Charmaine Houvet, Director: Government Affairs for Africa, Cisco.

“Cisco itself, for example, enabled immediate remote working for some 75,000 employees, thanks to our collaboration and security technology.”

However, she states, this was not necessarily the case for many South Africans, where a number of factors inhibited the smooth adoption of remote working, learning, and socialising.

Digital Exclusion Still Prevalent in SA

In fact, Datareportal revealed that, while the number of internet users in South Africa did increase between 2020 and 2021, it was only by 4.5%. Its Digital2021 report also recorded that internet penetration stood at 64% in January 2021, but still predominantly within urban areas.

“A truly digital economy can only be built if it incorporates meaningful participation by all citizens, yet digital access is currently not equally available to all locally. Affordability is a key constraint,” continues Houvet.

“It is vital that South Africa overcomes this digital divide by closing the significant gaps in accessibility which severely affects citizens in rural areas. Digital literacy, digital financial inclusion, and the growth of SMMEs and entrepreneurs are all negatively affected by this dilemma.”

The ongoing auction of high-demand spectrum is essential to ensuring rural connectivity, improved quality of service and lower costs to communicate.

It is critical for the government to prioritise the rollout of infrastructure in under-served areas, Houvet continues, and to progress the rollout of SA Connect, its ambitious plan to deliver widespread broadband access, which includes bringing our rural communities online.

“So, if we are to effortlessly adapt to the ‘current normal’, permanent solutions need to be found for helping to bring our rural communities online. Connectivity brings new opportunities for remote working and schooling, healthcare and small business.”

Internet for the Future

Cisco has been working with leading communication service providers and web-scale companies, such as AWS, Facebook, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and more, constructing, what Cisco believes are, the building blocks of an all-inclusive ‘internet for the future’.

According to Houvet, the pandemic has resulted in a greater focus on technology, e-commerce and financial services.

“And, there appears to be a direct correlation between internet connectivity and e-commerce growth across South Africa and the broader African continent, with smartphones and cloud-based applications significantly contributing to the growth,” Houvet says.

“Mobile usage is growing across Africa and is likely to improve as 3G/4G penetration advances, and Cisco wants to further help our customers and governments to partner more effectively in order to address the crucial issue of closing the digital divide over time, and this building a more inclusive future.”

Edited by Luis Monzon
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