The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s life in a way that has changed most people’s lives for the worst. We all know of someone who has lost a family member or a job or has had to close a business. However, the devastating pandemic has provided an opportunity for the fast-tracking of the move to digitisation. As they say, never waste a good crisis!

In early 2020 government loaned temporary network spectrum to South African telecom service providers because of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw an increase in online activities, including an increase in the number of people who worked from home. The so-called ‘new normal.

The temporary spectrum laid a foundation for increased access to ICT infrastructure in underserved areas, fast-tracking digitisation and elevated the call for the South African government to invest in building the digital capability which will ensure that there is inclusive participation of all South Africans in the 4IR.

ICASA has in the meantime announced that the temporary spectrum will be coming to an end.

The withdrawal of the temporary spectrum, while the COVID-19 pandemic is still upon us, will have an adverse impact on the country’s mobile network performance and as such ordinary South Africans who rely on the network for business, educational and other services.

It is well-known that South Africa is digitising quicker than it is creating network infrastructure that can carry the digitisation framework. This has a tremendous impact on businesses that operate in this space and as such will affect those businesses which are looking to scale up activity post the lockdown period.

Specifically, businesses that operate in the IT sphere require infrastructure that works so that they can carry out the many complex jobs that come with advancing society using technology.

For example, the deployment of technological innovations like smart energy meters, which can eliminate the need for routine visits to take meter readings, requires that internet connectivity is of the highest quality.

For South Africa to become a leading digital economy, we need to latch on to partnerships that will help us accelerate our digital thinking by showing us the way, since we might not have the requisite ‘know how to grow our own industry.

For example, internet giant, Google, has recently announced a $1 billion infrastructure investment into the continent that promises to fast track Africa’s internet capabilities. I think we should then work closely with the likes of Google to make sure that the new infrastructure is taken up by key South African networks and used to help bring data costs down while stimulating innovation in the tech space. It is from this type of innovative thinking that South Africa’s economic growth can be ignited.

South Africans are starting to take the benefits of the digital world more seriously, but they should be careful not to be left behind by the rest of the world while they still mull over how serious change digitisation is.

James Matshubeng is a thought leader, serial entrepreneur, radio host & Founder of Matoto Technologies.

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