Namibia leads way in ICT

By Lahja Nashuuta

WINDHOEK–NAMIBIA has made tremendous strides in taking Information and Communication Technology (ICT) solutions to its people, Huawei Telecommunication Technologies Namibia managing director Wallace Yin Xianyu said this week.

Xianyu said almost 70 percent of the population had access to services at affordable tariffs – a stage most of African countries are still struggling to reach.

Namibia had also created a conducive environment for foreign investors and service providers to come in and assist in the development of the sector, he said.

Namibia was the first country in Africa to launch the 4G and 4.5G technology even before South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius.

“It is because of this technology that the internet in Namibia is faster comparing to other countries in the region,” said Xianyu, speaking on the sidelines of the annual National ICT Summit that brought together stakeholders in the industry.

The three-day summit, organised by the Ministry of ICT, started on Monday, October 10, and was held under the theme: “Digital Transformation Towards Economic Growth and Prosperity.”

Participants commended Namibia for prioritising information and communication technology, and for keeping up with new trends and providing services at affordable rates.

In April, leading mobile operator MTC in partnership with Huawei launched the commercial use of LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network in Africa, and inaugurated the first 4.5G trial and first Gigabit per second in Africa.

ICT network coverage in Namibia has improved dramatically in the past two decades with mobile coverage of 95 percent for 2G, 30 percent for 3G and 15 percent for 4G. The current television network stands at 74.3 percent, radio 78 percent and internet connectivity is at 13 percent.

But despite all the milestones reached so far, Xianyu noted that there is more work to be done to ensure that the ICT sector is fully developed and that it is able to compete at global level.

Among the areas that need further attention is improvement of ICT infrastructure, literacy and public awareness as well as make services affordable especially for those in rural and remote areas.

“One thing that I have learned about the Namibian ICT sector is that people are not well informed on the importance of ICT, therefore people are not technology savvy,” Xianyu said.

Namibia needs to introduce educational programmes at both primary and secondary schools while at tertiary level students should be encouraged to consider careers in ICT.

“ICT is a hi-tech industry just like education and health that require a heavy investment. Of course I’m aware of the current global economic crisis and that of Namibia but the country needs to invest in ICT infrastructure if it is to bring ICT to a level where it can be able to compete with other ICT sectors in the world,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, and the Chinese telecommunication giant, Huawei, have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on the promotion of ICT literacy in the southern African country.

Wynand Gariseb, an ICT consultant for Headway Consulting which deals with IT governance, training, and project management, said there are a lot of gaps and loopholes in the ICT sector which need to be plugged.

“The rapid penetration of mobile access in particular has resulted in considerable improvements in the lives of the poor in both rural and urban settings. All evidence suggests that this trend is going to continue, as the availability expands and the cost of access continues to decline,” he said.

Although, mobile operators specifically MTC, have managed to cover large parts of the country, Gariseb stressed that most rural communities are still not connected to networks and cannot make use of ICT services.

David Terblanche, Relationship Account Manager for Lenovo South Africa stressed that the pace at which ICT products were changing is worrisome and many countries are struggling to cope with ICT advancement.

“As Lenovo, being one of the key players in ICT service provision in the region, what we have learned is that keeping up with trends is very difficult and the ICT sector need to look at sustainable methods of deploying technologies to schools up to tertiary education whereby it can be maintained for a couple of years before it has to be refreshed,” he said.

“The trend of technology is so fast that at the moment you buy the device today that will be undated in the next three months. There is a need to adopting sustentation in the ICT industry whereby a product can be sustained for more than two years giving enough time to people to get to know the product better and at the same time give enough time for ICT vendors to make profit.”

He said there was also a need to find technologies that people can afford and can at least last for reasonable periods as the latest technology is always expensive.

Lack of proper infrastructure is a big challenge to the advancement of the ICT sector in Namibia and the southern African region, he said.

“If you don’t have telephone lines, satellite, cellphone towers and people to maintain that infrastructure then there is no communication. Therefore, the country needs to invest more in ICT infrastructure,” he said.

In his opening statement, ICT Minister Tjekero Tweya told the delegates that he has committed to overseeing the effective implementation of laws and regulations “to address accessibility, affordability and the quality of Information Communication Technology, with the aim of creating a knowledge-based society”. Tweya also assured the nation that the government will work hard to bring connectivity to rural areas and to make sure they are 100 percent ICT covered in the near future.

“My objective is to ensure that the existing 70 percent coverage increases to 100 percent. By so doing, the breakthrough of this milestone will give birth to a culture of inclusivity ensuring that nobody must feel left out from the Namibian house of ICT, as the President of this beautiful Republic affectionately advocates,” he said. He called on ICT service providers and vendors to reach out to all corners of the country, including the Himba and San communities and ensure that they are also connected to mobile phones, internet, radio and television.