September 10th, 2013, Published in Articles: EngineerIT

by Hans van de Groenendaal, features editor, EngineerIT


The 2013 Southern Africa Telecommunication Networks and Applications Conference (SATNAC) was held at Spier Wine Estate, Stellenbosch, Western Cape from 1 – 4 September.

A high note was struck at the start of SATNAC 2013 on 1 September with the welcoming address by Prof. Brian O’Connnell, vice-chancellor and rector of the University of the Western Cape. He told delegates that our future lies in connecting and understanding. “South Africa has a triple challenge, to build a democratic state, integrate itself into the competitive arena of international production and finance and reconstruct domestic social and economic relations to eradicate and redress the inequitable patterns of ownership, wealth and social and economic practices that were shaped by segregation and apartheid. A school is not just a tool for youth, but is a resource for the entire community it serves. A new breed of teacher/facilitator must be trained and recruited to do away with download-style pedagogy, and rather serve as curators of ideas and enablers of creativity and innovation.”

In the opening address communication minister Yunus Carrim said that the past twenty years have been an extraordinary time for the development of ICT and specifically for the mobile communications industry. The mobile revolution has brought many benefits of the modern ICT industry to billions of people. “The next crucial step is to replicate the mobile miracle for broadband.” He said that broadband is a set of transformative technologies which is fundamentally changing the way we live – and which has a crucial role to play in sustainable economic and social growth.

“We went to parliament on 20 August and set out our strategy and programme until the 2014 elections. Our aim is to finalise the broadband policy by the end of November.The latest draft will be finalised by the Department of Communications (DoC) within 14 days and taken to other relevant ministers for their buy-in”.

“We need to ensure access to cheaper, faster, better quality broadband. It is long overdue. Obviously, we have to move with speed too on spectrum policy. We aim to finalise the spectrum policy by March 2014. This includes the issue of high-demand spectrum for broadband, which is linked to digital migration. For all the challenges, government has made significant progress since 1994. We could have done better. But we have certainly made important progress.”

“We are in the very early stages of a journey towards an extraordinary new world –a broadband world. We would like all of you to take an active part in this journey. Our job as government is to create the space for you to do so. And we certainly will.”

The keynote address was delivered by scenario planner Clem Sunter who talked about the world and South Africa beyond 2013. He said South Africa was not a hopeless case but there are a number of red flags that need to be kept down. He said President Zuma should reset his target of creating 5-million new jobs to creating 1-million new enterprises because that is the only way we are going create millions of new jobs. He said that we are still in the premier league but there is a 50% chance that we could slip into second division. The three red flags that we need to pay attention to are an inclusive leadership style of government; we need to replicate the pockets of excellence and we need to create a balanced, outward economy that earns foreign exchange and an inward economy that creates jobs. “I urge you not to wait for government to take the lead but do take the lead yourself!,” said Sunter.

There were many other interesting and thought-provoking presentations, which will be covered in future editions of EngineerIT.

The main panel debate was on broadband from an ICT operator and industry perspective. Chaired by Duncan McLeod of TechCentral, the panellists were Bashier Sallie of Telkom, PulengKwele from Broadband Infraco and Kumaran Nair of IBM South Africa. It was agreed that partnership in the industry is important. They highlighted uncertainty around spectrum policy, and unbundling of the local loop as a barrier to investment and that government incentives are needed to encourage development of services in rural areas.

In his presentation “Beyond Infrastructure: making broadband succeed for all,” Luis Martinez Amago of Alcatel–Lucent said that broadband infrastructure needs to be balanced. The demand must meet the infrastructure being built, which seems a problem in Europe. At this stage is very unlikely to be a problem in South Africa but his warning should be noted. South Africa must build broadband where the demand is and avoid creating capacity in excess of demand –for example, where fibre links connect the major cities but bypass smaller towns.

One of the regular features of SATNAC is the presentation of research papers by students from Telkom Centres of Excellence at South African universities. It is a pity that these papers are presented after the main sessions, resulting in the work being shared with their peers but not with the industry at large.

Telkom also used the opportunity to announce new developments. The company has switched on its IP multimedia system (IMS) -enabling truly converged broadband and voice (simulated and emulated) product offerings.

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