MTN SA CEO Godfrey Motsa says 2020 will be remembered for many things, one of which is how dire global circumstances pushed digital transformation into high gear. The pandemic provided the real-time “proof of concept” that a digital work-and-home lifestyle is possible.
He calls telecoms the “jet fuel” that sustained us as a nation during a dark time — with mobile broadband, fixed wireless connections and mobile apps becoming the primary tools enabling billions to stay connected.
In one month of the pandemic alone, global internet traffic soared by 30% as people digitally connected with health professionals, work colleagues, educators and loved ones.
Digital solutions, he says, were activated everywhere, helping reduce the spread of infection while enabling businesses to continue operating and learners to be educated even as we stayed at home.
Digital connectivity helped our country, our economy, our people stay afloat. The allocation of temporary spectrum by the government meant coverage and quality could be further extended and enhanced to reach even more South Africans. But the big elephant in the room remains: around the world, billions of people still can’t get online.
Motsa says MTN despairs of the digital divide, which has been highlighted more than ever during the crisis.
“Technology has emerged as a key enabler for communities, governments and businesses, but in SA and other developing nations, access to technology remains a major barrier to entry,” he says. For Motsa and MTN SA, bringing the advantages of a digital life to everyone is a priority. “It’s imperative that every possible step is taken now to enhance access broadly so more people can enjoy the benefits of a modern, connected life.”
Finding viable, far-reaching ways of bridging the digital divide is critical to MTN, Motsa says. He is determined to build and leverage partnerships across all the relevant government departments to make the future one in which everyone can use digital technology to navigate an uncertain future.
“We must accept that the world is going to be very different to the one we knew pre-Covid,” he says. “This will be a world predominated by technology and by the need for access to this technology. Our path forward is clear.”
The rollout of 5G is the big technological development that will soon shift the future. “What’s important to know is that 5G gives you unprecedented speed,” says Godfrey Motsa. “Such speeds enable a raft of services that rely on extremely low latency, such as the emerging dream of driverless cars. Such dreams can finally become a reality because the response time between that ping between the server and the end user becomes negligible. This will be a huge advantage to the business community because it means that we can begin developing all sorts of applications that require real-time speed. It is a major game-changer.”
Broadening everyone’s horizons
“Before Covid-19, MTN had already mapped out a plan to build a digital operator, moving our customers from a voice-centric world into a world of mobile data and digital services, including digital financial services,” says Motsa. “The pandemic is accelerating this move.”
There are hurdles, however. A major threat is the country’s lack of spectrum — the radio frequencies allocated to enable communication over the airwaves.
“Spectrum is our oxygen,” says Motsa. “We need it to breathe. Additional frequencies across both coverage and capacity bands will mean we can connect more people and offer faster speeds.”
During the pandemic, the government temporarily extended the frequency allocation to accommodate an unprecedented 68% growth in data traffic.
The government has extended the temporary spectrum, while also initiating its much-awaited auction.
“The imminent spectrum auction is a powerful demonstration of both our government and regulator’s commitment to help more people to access data. Access to spectrum reduces the need to build more base stations, towers and masts so, by reducing our costs, we can, in turn, drive down the cost to communicate,” Motsa says.
He says that there have been important strides made by the Independent Communications Authority of SA and, most notably, by the presidency’s commission on the fourth industrial revolution. “The commission’s insights are helping drive the move towards enhanced access to digital solutions,” he says.
Motsa believes such partnerships are vital for SA to bring more people into the digital age. “We’re making immense strides to ensure more people across the continent gain access to technology, key information and digital solutions, such as mobile banking. If governments, regulators and business work together, the obstacles can and will be overcome.
“Technology has emerged as a key enabler for communities, governments and businesses, but in SA and other developing nations, access to technology remains a major barrier to entry. Covid-19 has delivered a devastating blow to our already-limping economy, so it is imperative that every possible step is taken now to enhance access, and help our economy recover and grow to the benefit of all.”
* This article was paid for by MTN.