Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams: FTTX Conference

Opening address by the Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Ms Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams FTTX Conference, 08 October 2019, Sandton, Johannesburg

President of the FTTX Council Africa, Dr Andile Ngcaba,

FTTX Council CEO, Ms Juanita Clark

Mr Kieron Osmotherly from TowerXchange,

SALGA CEO, Mr Xolile George,

Ms Danielle Agress from the United States Trade and Development Agency,

Captains of the Industry,

Members of the Media,

Ladies & Gentleman,

Good Morning.

It is my distinct honour and privilege to be in your midst this morning, as over 1000 industry leaders across the continent have gathered to explore the world of fibre and 5G, as well as the impact on the industry and the opportunities it holds for Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) heralds significant social, political, cultural, and economic upheavals that are occurring at an unprecedented, whirlwind pace. This perfect storm of technologies is indeed paving the way for transformative changes in the way that we live and is radically disrupting almost every sector. It goes without saying that the 4IR has an extraordinary impact on our communities and human identities.

How we engage with the 4IR technologies is therefore paramount and as leaders in the industry, we have the unique opportunity and responsibility to give it structure and purpose.

Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa established the Presidential Commission on the 4IR, which is mandated to advise government on 4IR policies, develop a framework for implementation of a multi-sectoral 4IR strategy; and coordinate, monitor and evaluate multi-sectoral initiatives that will position South Africa as a globally competitive player in 4IR. Chaired by President Ramaphosa, with the deputy as Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, the commission is already hard at work focusing on the following six delivery areas:

policy and legislation,

human capital and the future of work,

research, technology and innovation,

infrastructure and resources,

industrialisation and commercialisation and

economic and social impact.

I am pleased to note that a number of sector leaders in this room today have heeded the call to serve as commissioners or are participating in the technical workstreams.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Along with our values of leadership, passion, accountability, collaboration, diversity and quality, fibre forms one of the key pillars which will establish the next generation of connectivity and is a critical enabler for the 4IR. Today we know that fibre is potentially the most critical component of all telecommunications infrastructure. We have come to realise that without fibre we will not enter the 5G race.

According to the FTTX Council, as at the end of June 2019, about 1.5 million end points have been passed, with a total of over 600 000 connections, comprising of over 496 000 homes that are connected and billed, and over 114 000 business premises.

These are truly impressive numbers; however, we are also alive to the fact that we are still only scratching the tip of the iceberg. I have engaged with operators who are in agreement that the amount of fibre that we currently have in place is not nearly adequate to serve the future needs of the telecommunications industry.

Further, whilst acknowledging the R100 billion investment that the industry has made so far, we believe that to achieve our 5G vision, that at least six to eight times more fibre must be deployed.

Distinguished guests,

As government, our role in all of these exciting trends is that of an enabler; from a policy, legislative and regulatory perspective. With these instruments we seek to coordinate and facilitate an inclusive growth that benefits all the masses of our people. To this end, it gives me great pleasure to advise you that the Department has made significant progress in its aims to support industry in achieving its goals.

Presidential Commission on 4IR

As earlier mentioned, the Presidential Commission on the 4IR has been established and is hard at work towards the development of South Africa’s blueprint on 4IR by March 2020.

SA Connect

The Department mandated BBI and SITA to collaborate amongst themselves, other SOEs and private sector players to rollout broadband services to SA Connect Phase One facilities; and implementation thereof commenced in 2018/19. However, due to budget constraints, the scope for Phase One has been adjusted to now connect 970 government facilities. As at the end of September 2019, 551 of the 970 government facilities have been connected; and these are mainly schools and health facilities.

It is worth noting that work is underway on the remaining facilities and these will be completed by the end of 2019/20 financial year. With regards to Phase Two, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) is assisting the Department with facilitating a feasibility study which will explore various cost-effective and efficient implementation models; as well as sustainable funding models.

We envisaged that sector collaboration will significantly reduce the time to deploy broadband infrastructure and services whilst minimising duplication of infrastructure. We also believe that FTTX will play an integral role in assisting government to realise its policy aspiration of increasing broadband speed from 10mbps to 100mbps.

Rapid Deployment coordination Centre

The department established a virtual Rapid Deployment Coordination Centre (RDCC) with the objective of coordinating and ultimately accelerating the infrastructure deployment process to enable sustainable and environmentally sound deployment of critical broadband infrastructure and to ensure rapid deployment of ICT infrastructure to support government programs. In its operation, the RDCC is engaging with key stakeholders such as the FTTX Council, SALGA, CoGTA, and the Presidential Infrastructure Coordination Committee (PICC).

Spectrum Policy Direction

Earlier this year on 26 July, I published the Policy Direction on High Demand Spectrum to enable the industry to respond to the needs of the 4IR, particularly the deployment of robust infrastructure and address the issue of network capacity congestion. The policy direction has enabled ICASA to commence the process to license high demand spectrum to new entrants and potential new investors in the form of the WOAN as well as incumbent operators. Other holders of the relevant electronic communications network licences can also compete for the spectrum earmarked for the industry.

Subsequent to the issuing of the policy direction, ICASA undertook the process to develop an Information Memorandum intended to outline processes and procedures for the licensing of the spectrum. In mid-September 2019 ICASA issued a media statement to inform the industry and the public of its intentions to issue an Information Memorandum for public comments by the end of December 2019.

It is anticipated that the licensing process for spectrum will involve an auction whilst the licensing of the WOAN will involve a beauty contest through submission of business, financial and technical plans.

Skills development

On the skills front, the Department has developed a National Digital Skills Strategy which sets out a structured series of interventions and initiatives. These interventions are intended to contribute to the capacities of South Africans to meet the challenges arising from the increasing deployment and adoption of digital technologies in the economy and society.

The strategy is supported by research that identified current critical skills gaps as well as the skills required for the future; and provided recommendations on the implementation approach for digital skills development for the country.

We have also set a bold vision to train one million young people in data science and related skills by 2030. FTTX is therefore urged to support this vision by building the necessary skills required for effective deployment of fibre in the country.

Contribution to the new district-based service delivery model

In a bid to improve service delivery in the country’s 257 municipalities, President Cyril Ramaphosa in his third state of the nation address, announced a new district-based service delivery model. Apart from breaking silos, the new model will ensure that municipalities are properly supported and adequately resourced.

It is therefore necessary for the private sector to lend a helping hand as government endeavours to roll-out this model. We would like to see the rapid mushrooming of Smart Districts in the near future and, we implore FTTX Members to support government strides of fast-tracking the roll-out of broadband infrastructure and services.

Colleagues,

All over the continent people are looking to broadband as a means of income. Technology is fast reshaping our world and it has the potential to change everything, people, business, community and our nation. Our job as leaders is to respond to ensure that we make digital transformation a reality.

This is an important task and as industry we must find ways of making this happen and this includes our capacity to work together to identify opportunities in the transition we must make. This industry has the potential to aid in the economic growth, dynamism and ingenuity Africa needs. A key part of the solution is staring us right in the face�unleashing the economic power of the digital world.

Distinguished delegates,

Achieving ubiquitous access is no easy task, but I am confident that together we can reach our targets. We need to continuously visit our goals and set ourselves a challenge. We need to cultivate a culture of innovation.

I was reliably informed that there are several financial institutions here with us today.

We want to provide you with the re-assurance that as government we support our industry and yourself. We urge you to continue investing in the sector and we pledge our full support to ensure that we do our part in building a sustainable sector.

Distinguished Delegates,

This is our moment of truth � when all of us in this room will be tested. We must not be found wanting.

In conclusion, allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate the FTTX Council under the leadership of Dr Andile Ngcaba, for the excellent work that you continue to do on behalf of the fibre optic industry. In you, the department has a valuable partner and we believe that together we will achieve even greater success.

On behalf of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Technologies, we wish you successful deliberations at the 2019 FTTX Council Africa Conference.

I thank you.

Source: Department of Communication

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