SA Business Integrator spoke to Mlamli Booi, CEO of Sentech, about the future of South Africa’s digital economy and ICT industry.

The global Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted all sectors globally. What plans does Sentech have to reshape the digital economy of South Africa?

Sentech has digitized its broadcasting platforms, allowing its customers to stream their content to their audiences and receive digital broadcast content terrestrially and via satellite. We have invested in an OTT platform that will allow digital content delivery to anyone, anywhere in the country on which ever device they will be receiving this content.  We have also enabled the delivery of education content to the learners during the COVID-19 restrictions.

Sentech will use the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate its digital strategy around building a data centre and high-speed communication infrastructure and computation cloud platform for Government initiatives in education, health, rural development, and economic stimulant zones.

Sentech’s role on the retail side is to provide platforms so its customers can provide services to the end user. What platforms are currently in place and how will they benefit and be cost-effective to the end user?

We have over the years, provided retailers, and will continue to do so, with what we call Business Television and Radio for broadcasting to their end users.

In line with the NDP goals ‘Internet for All’ by 2020, Sentech has installed 11 free Wi-Fi spots across the country for the benefit of communities.

As a broadcasting and connectivity specialist, what are the focus areas to optimise and improve on processes and service delivery when it comes to investing in the latest technologies like 5G?

We need more sites and spectrum for 5G. Fortunately, Sentech is able to use a spectrum that no other operator is able to use immediately due to the need for coordination. We have already engaged ICASA for this spectrum, at least for pilot sites. We also need collaboration with mobile operators on 5G business and infrastructure development. At the moment we are exploring a collaboration opportunity for the development of 5G for business. We are creating strategic relationships with leading suppliers and global players.

What effect does digital transformation currently have on our communities and SMEs, while bearing in mind that not everyone is fully equipped with or informed about the current technologies in place?

It provides opportunities for easy access to information, services, and the market. We sometimes underestimate the amount of knowledge and exposure our citizens already have. The problem is not knowledge, but rather access to information because of the lack of financial resources and infrastructure where people live. For example, there is so much fibre in the suburbs and nothing in the townships. This is where the Sentech strategy comes to the fore, deploying wireless broadband services.

Is there a plan to educate and empower the end user via Sentech’s resources about access to internet connectivity and broadband services?

We have developmental programmes for ourselves and the public at large. We are looking at making Sentech Academy activities available to benefit the public.

Sentech’s first 5G sites went live on 26 March 2020, just before the national lockdown. With 5G now the next-generation standard of mobile communications, there have been some concerns globally. What are the pros and cons of 5G among communities?

The main advantage of 5G is that it has a speed comparable to fibre. It allows the user to use one high speed internet for data, video and voice. The same network can be used for industry and the Internet of Things (IoT). The concern for incumbents is that it is a completely new network, replacing everything they have had before. They have to re-invest in the new 5G technologies. For Sentech, it will be a green-fields network which will make it easier to implement

There have been health concerns around 5G based on radio radiation. The World Health Organization (WHO) has rejected such claims outright. However, we acknowledge the continuing research on the impact of high frequency, high power and densely clustered basetages as in the case of 5G.

As a state-owned entity, we believe that we have an opportunity to deploy wireless broadband to close the access and service gap for all broadband services. Our role is to collaborate with any public and private entity in closing the broadband gap.

 

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