Cities that are digitally connected and ready to benefit from and contribute to the Internet of Things (IoT) are a priority for President Cyril Ramaphosa and the South African government.
This is according to Minister of Science and Technology Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, who made the remarks on Tuesday at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre in Durban.
She was speaking during the first session of a ministerial roundtable on the role of governments in driving information and communication technologies (ICT) at the ITU Telecom World Conference 2018.
“We are looking at creating smart cities where our technology can be used in smart grids, smart healthcare, where sensors connect data in hospitals, trains, grids and so on. All sensors will be interconnected by the IoT,” she said.
The Internet of Things entails various devices connected through networks that allow the devices to “speak” to one another. As an example, if you have run out of milk, your fridge will place an online order for a carton.
Ministers from Palestine, Afghanistan, the United Kingdom, Sudan, Singapore, Botswana, Lesotho and Vietnam were also part of the dialogue, while MTN CEO and group president Rob Shuter and Ericsson’s head of special projects Mikael Bäck, represented the telecoms industry.
Kubayi-Ngubane said that in order for the IoT to be viable, affordable and available, broadband access was needed. “When it is available, the price is prohibitive. This is the first challenge when creating smart cities,” she said.
The technologies required to make smart cities were the tools of the fourth industrial revolution, she said, and skills were needed to enable cities to become smarter. There was a need to invest in affordable broadband, she said.
Reiterating the words of Ramaphosa during his opening address at the conference on Monday, deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services, Stella Tembisa Ndabeni-Abrahams, said that South Africa still had 20-million citizens that were not connected to the Internet. Ndabeni-Abrahams was moderating the session.
She said that government introduced the SA Connect programme in order to provide communications access to citizens, but that skills were still needed.
MTN’s Shuter said there was still “a lot of work to be done by industry players” regarding entry level costs of data. Innovative solutions were needed to roll out rural coverage, he said.
There was a need for industry players to “recapture the boldness” used in rolling out the first phase of the mobile industry in the country, he said.
As for the role of government, Shuter said that it was easier to supply new technological innovations when basic infrastructure was working.
Abrahams said government must introduce incentives to ensure that data could be widely available. Innovation was key, she said, but it should be innovation that could be used globally. “People must be effective participants in the communications space.”