At the time of writing this blog, I am at the GSMA Africa Mobile360 conference being held at the Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda. It has been a very busy day of intense activity and conversations on matters relating to “the Rise of the Digital Citizen”- persons utilizing connected technology platforms, devices, networks and systems to engage in the economy, society, politics, activism, and other facets of life.
Like most tech events, this conference has been thought-provoking, intentional, well-themed and practical because it has gathered all the leading industry minds and practitioners to contribute ideas and best practices aimed at facilitating growth of Africa’s nascent mobile and digital ecosystem.
My interest in the event is twofold- creating the right policy and regulatory frameworks to support innovation; and leveraging investment into the ecosystem in a manner that is both profitable and impact driven. Here are the top 5 highlights from Day 1.
a) Think about the ecosystem from a technology convergence perspective. As regulatory interventions begin to take root in new and emerging tech, there is a tendency to focus on silo regulation, yet technologies have a tendency to converge (integrate) and form new outcomes- most often, not contemplated in infancy. Therefore, there is need for regular ecosystem mapping and documentation of new use cases in order to create policies and regulatory models that are both responsive and fit for purpose.
b) Both private sector and public sector leaders need to think deeply about their respective strategies and engagement points. For example, networks like 5G will require more spectrum, partnerships and collaborations, products and systems support from third party vendors, etc. Developing solid and business-focussed strategies for both businesses and regulators will drive further efficiencies and economies of scale.
c) Mutualization of networks and platforms will enhance further collaborations, reduce duplicity, cost and ease of doing business. All these will drive further shared network use, access and adoption by customers, thus unlocking social and economic gridlocks especially in underserved areas. However, this must be supported by robust data protection, cyber security and privacy policies in order to address consumer protection and national security.
d) Policy design, implementation and enforcement must be alive to cross-sector and cross-border concerns. Increasingly, businesses will scale up their pan-African operations and presence because the digital economy is not constrained by national borders and limits of geography as long as connectivity and access are addressed. Furthermore, there will be a shift from traditional revenue and income streams to co-creation and collaboration structures outside incumbent sector domains. This calls for new cross-linked and inter-linked regulatory models that are agile and futuristic.
e) Energy mix will be a game changer. Systems such as data centres consumer about 200 terawatt hours (TWh) per annum, higher than the total energy generation in some countries. Such infrastructure hosts websites and provide computing power for various applications- and projected demand is growing exponentially. Therefore, industry investment in clean energy sources such as solar and energy efficient cooling systems needs to be addressed in a clear and focussed manner so that environmental risk is managed. Also, policy interventions must be alive to challenges such as e-waste management and disposal frameworks.
By and large, policy imperatives such as driving penetration and rural access, gender inclusion, government policy alignment to create regulatory certainty, and periodic reviews through participatory processes involving all stakeholders are critical imperatives that will build the right environment required to catalyse Africa’s nascent tech and innovation ecosystem.