Interview: Orlando Ayala
What can be done to address the digital divide in emerging markets?
ORLANDO AYALA: The digital divide is a persistent problem in underserved communities, be they in emerging markets or more developed countries. Today, broadband connection is vital for all populations to access commerce, citizen services, social networks and learning and skills development. This access should not be restricted based on income, education level or geography. Emerging markets have less penetration than developed ones, and rural areas have much less penetration than urban spaces in both emerging and developed markets. Public-private partnerships are now, and will continue to be, one of the most effective ways of closing this divide by focusing on affordable access solutions that are inclusive of all communities.
What are the main challenges in raising broadband penetration in Africa?
AYALA: In Africa there are many challenges that slow broadband penetration, including a lack of basic infrastructure, large distances and poor affordability. The good news is that we are now seeing rapid innovation in both technology and business models, which should encourage the proliferation of broadband. For example, Microsoft has piloted a broadband technology known as “white spaces” in Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Ghana and other countries, applying unused portions of the TV spectrum to deliver high speed internet. This is low-cost and is able to cover long distances to reach communities in remote areas.
What is the role for fixed infrastructure in Africa?
AYALA: Africa’s ability to promote mobile technology, leverage big data and gain access to global markets depends on the improvement of fixed infrastructure such as the extension of the power grid, improvement of logistics and better transportation. These are areas where development is more important than boosting ICT infrastructure. Africa has invested in broadband delivery via world-class submarine fibre; however, the cost of using this infrastructure keeps it beyond the reach of average business owners, so affordable broadband is also an important consideration.
In many ways, Africa’s greater challenge is in soft connectivity — the education, skills, and innovation needed to be globally competitive. Investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education has fallen behind the rest of the world, and Africa will need to close the gaps in these areas to take full advantage of mobile- and cloud-driven opportunities.
To what extent will mobile, big data and cloud computing impact ICT development?
AYALA: The massive wave of technological innovation being ushered in by mobile, big data and cloud computing will generate significant opportunities for people, businesses, and governments in Africa and around the world. We are already seeing the leading edge of these transformations taking place today. For example, small entrepreneurs and micro-businesses are able to successfully compete with larger companies by accessing the computing power available in the cloud. By building relevant apps, hosting them in the cloud and making them available across mobile platforms, new “cloud-first, mobile-first” businesses are rapidly generating innovative products, business models and financing options to address the needs of local consumers.
How can ICT illiteracy in Africa be reduced?
AYALA: Addressing Africa’s lack of ICT literacy requires a multi-faceted approach that involves the private sector, governments and educational institutions. According to a September 2013 report by UNESCO, while adult basic literacy around the world has increased by 8% since 1990 to 84%, some 775m adults remain illiterate, with three-quarters residing in sub-Saharan Africa and west and south Asia. ICT literacy is critical in creating a digitally-minded population, as well as reducing illiteracy levels. Introducing ICT at early learning stages is key.
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