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High cellphone penetration rate positions continent to leverage 4IR technologies

10th May 2024

By: Natasha Odendaal

Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

     

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Africa has an advantage when leveraging ever-developing Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies to overcome the deficits created by a lack of infrastructure and geographical distances: its high cellphone penetration rate.

On a continent with one of the highest cellphone penetration rates in the world, mobile devices and digital resources are being used to leapfrog Africa’s deficits and many of the continent’s problems are being solved through digital innovation, says MTN Converged Solutions CEO David Behr.

“The World Bank and the African Development Bank report that there are about 650-million users in Africa. “Astonishingly, they say, in some African countries, more people have access to a mobile device than clean water, a bank account or electricity,” he says.

Beyond the rise of technologies and innovations, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, the Internet of Things and robotics, and their significant influence on business and industry, consideration should be given to the potential to leverage these technologies to drive positive social change.

“As a technology company, MTN believes the benefits of 4IR could lead to a transition towards a more equitable future in countries like South Africa. Much can be achieved by using technology to reduce the chasm between social classes, or, as we put it, the digital haves and the digital have-nots,” Behr comments.

The advances have enabled MTN to shape and enhance business offerings and philanthropic corporate social investment (CSI) programmes and use its platforms as a launching pad.

The newly launched MTN Converged Solutions aims to consolidate best practices and new technologies in one place central to production, while MTN South Africa Foundation’s education programmes, in collaboration with partners, promotes digital awareness in the young and a move into science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the tertiary level.

“This leads naturally to our role at enterprise development; our purpose is to stimulate digitally based small and medium-sized enterprises, encourage our developers and digitally talented people and build an innovative sector in South Africa.

“This will benefit the economy, a society that is increasingly reliant on 4IR technologies and technology companies like MTN that always require digitally empowered employees,” Behr continues.

Further, new technologies are emerging and have yet to be used to their fullest extent, which creates even more opportunities for companies and individuals wishing to find a new niche for themselves.

“We can only ponder on how the introduction of immersive educational environments using virtual reality and augmented reality could help our CSI and business-based interventions. “Also, a major area of debate and controversy is just how artificial intelligence (AI) will develop and what it holds for companies, people’s careers and our collective futures.”

As technology evolves ever more rapidly, there are demands for a workforce equipped with cutting-edge technology skills.

“We need more than technologies for developing these skills through interactive learning experiences, online courses and skill- building platforms,” he says, noting that businesses can use AI to identify skill gaps and recommend personalised learning paths, ensuring that employees and students acquire the skills demanded by the digital economy.

“By collaborating with educational institutions and training providers to design programmes aligned with industry needs, we will open easier transitions into the workforce.”

Further exploitation of 4IR digital platforms, e-commerce and cloud-based solutions are and will further empower small businesses to reach global markets and AI-driven tools can enhance operational efficiency, automate processes and provide valuable insights for strategic decision-making for these businesses.

In addition, digital lending innovations can level the playing field, enable small businesses to compete with larger rivals and contribute significantly to economic growth.

“Essentially, the more efficiently we introduce new technologies to society and the more widely they are shared, the better the potential for positive change becomes not just a vision but a tangible reality,” Behr says.

Having an understanding of technology and in-house expertise required to run and adapt the operations of a major telecom provider does not necessarily mean having the skills to identify, develop and introduce technology where it is needed.

Edited by Martin Zhuwakinyu
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

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