By Mthulisi Sibanda
Johannesburg — THE inaugural World Wi-Fi Day has been commemorated amid concerns over the digital divide in South Africa, the continent's most advanced economy whose democracy is also seen as a model for Africa.
Set to be an annual event every June 20, it is a global initiative to champion exciting and innovative solutions to help bridge the digital divide.
"There is no denying that the digital divide remains a reality in South Africa," said Riaan Maree, Chief Technical Officer at WIRUlink.
WIRUlink is a internet and telephone service provider, offering voice and data services to business and homes in South Africa.
In an interview with CAJ News, Maree said reports indicated that the digital divide in South Africa was more noticeable between major metros and non-metro areas as well as between different cities and provinces.
"Such findings indicate the need for service providers to help improve access to affordable connectivity, even in semi-remote or remote areas if businesses are to truly realise the business potential of real connectivity," Maree said.
The expert said for the small and medium enterprises (SME) sector, this was critically important as affordable and reliable internet access had a number of key advantages.
This is because many SME businesses do not have the necessary funds to expand their network infrastructure which means that their businesses are hindered from growth and geographical expansion.
In terms of flexibility, with wireless broadband technologies, businesses are not tied into fixed infrastructure investments allowing them to improve infrastructure and change fundamental information technology (IT) processes that may once have hindered them from taking advantage of the latest technologies.
In addition, through wireless connectivity, businesses are able to offer their employees flexibility in terms of how and where they work and engage within the businesses.
SMEs contribute 36 percent towards South Africa's development and have been identified as a catalyst for job creation. While small businesses play a pivotal role in the country's job creations efforts, they face challenges including cash flow and economic instability.
Maree said in a world where Wi-Fi performance had continued improving, South Africans should recognise and celebrate the fundamental role that Wireless Connectivity is playing within the local context.
"Connecting the unconnected is what wireless solutions aim towards and there has been a massive advancement in this sector," he said.
Maree said while wireless adoption globally had been a business-critical element for some time, in South Africa however, adoption had been much slower yet, fundamentally, as speeds increased and data became more readily available at a cheaper price.
"We have seen a massive shift. Not only the adoption of wireless connectivity by businesses but in the demand, being driven by their customers to provide such connectivity."
Statistics show that ADSL (fixed broadband) usage within the SME market has declined from 70 percent in 2009 to 56 percent in 2018 as a result of alternative connectivity technologies becoming available - of which wireless connectivity is a critical contributor.
Actually, 48 percent of South African organisations have already begun a digital transformation journey within the SME space - indicating that this sector's appetite for, and affiliation towards, non-ADSL solutions is rife, Maree said.
The executive said internet access and connectivity had, for a long time, been a contentious topic in South Africa, largely driven by discussions around affordability.
This has driven down adoption in the past and has been one of the biggest hindrances, especially considering that consumers were paying for lower speeds and less data, yet at a higher cost.
"However, with the prevalence of reliable, high-speed, uncapped data options, offered through wireless solutions, we are seeing a much stronger uptake of such solutions - the proof is in the stats," Maree concluded.