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ICT Infrastructure 2019: We were all about learning and networking

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It is with happy hindsight that we can confidently say the first (but certainly not the last) ICT Infrastructure Conference and Exhibition was a success! Hosted by EE Publishers and Infracom on 28 and 29 August in Johannesburg, the two-day event saw professionals gathering from across the IT and electrical engineering professions. Thanks in large part to partnership with and CPD accreditation from the SAIEE and IITPSA, we can say with certainty that ICT Infrastructure 2019 attracted high-quality delegates.

With conferences serving the ICT sector abound, we know we aren’t the biggest, but we are striving to be the best. Quality over quantity was what we aimed for and our keynote speakers, presenters, exhibitors and delegates certainly delivered. Aside from Q&A sessions and engagements during panel discussions, much rich debate could be heard during networking sessions – a sure sign that this conference achieved what we hoped it would: creating a platform for learning and networking for the ICT infrastructure industry, with the aim of using ICT for South Africa’s economic development.

Unforgettable keynote speakers

The jam-packed programme featured six keynote presenters over the two days, kicking off with Dr Happy Sithole, centre manager of the CSIR’s National Integrated Cyber-Infrastructure System (NICIS). He discussed SA’s cyber-infrastructure and how it can be used to increase the country’s competitiveness. Dr Sithole’s message was that shared access to advanced cyber-infrastructure facilities could facilitate a vibrant knowledge-based economy and enable education, research and innovation. NICIS aims to provide infrastructure for data-intensive research done by tertiary institutes.

Jacques du Toit, MD of Vox Telecom followed Dr Sithole and presented on a very hot topic – to 5G or not to 5G? He emphasised that although 5G could deliver improved customer experience by better small cell wireless access points, ultimately, the quality and reliability of the wireless network will depend on the fibre network carrying traffic. Spectrum allocation, rural connectivity and investment remain challenges to 5G implementation, but he stressed one important message – the success of 5G will depend on fibre!

All the way from Finland, Eaton’s Janne Paananen kicked off the dedicated energy track with his keynote presentation on using UPSs as a reserve for data centres. He stressed that the future “energy aware UPS” not only protects the load against mains-related voltage and frequency anomalies. It can also intelligently leverage the connected energy storage systems to manage the flow of energy to help optimise energy usage and reduce cost of energy through demand-response activities.

Dennis Dykes gives his keynote presentation.

Day two started with a chilling keynote presentation from Nedbank’s chief economist, Dennis Dykes, who examined the context in which we all operate – South Africa’s economy. He provided useful insights into the country’s history, economic trends, and what needs to be done to reboot the economy. He stressed the importance of the ICT sector in strengthening the economy: economic growth is a function of productivity growth, and ICT inherently boosts productivity by improving information flow, and reducing costs and increasing ease of doing business.

Dykes’ point was further proven by the proceeding keynote, Phathizwe Malinga, MD of SqwidNet. Malinga discussed how remote monitoring of critical infrastructure could be done using the IoT to reduce downtime and increase mean time to repair. This is particularly suited to monitoring battery theft – a rising trend in South Africa which has knock-on effects for national productivity.

The final keynote of the event was presented by the president of the SAIEE and telecoms industry veteran, George Debbo. He discussed methods of connecting under-served rural areas using multi access edge computing, which has the potential to reduce back-haul costs and stimulate rural economies.

Presenters out-did themselves

WAPA’s Tim Genders receives his best paper award from Aimee Clarke, editor of EngineerIT.

Aside from the impressive keynote lineup, ICT Infrastructure 2019 featured almost 20 other presentations covering cloud, energy, business, security and skills development. Presenters delivered high-quality and informative talks which meant that delegates truly achieved professional development and did not just have an easy day or two out the office. Worthy of note were the winning presentations for each day. The best paper for day one was awarded to WAPA president, Tim Genders, who spoke about the reality of 5G and connecting rural communities. His message was that while connectivity is important for our future, we don’t need to wait for mobile 5G. We can reach 6-million homes with fibre and 2-million homes with fixed wireless. We need to encourage, incentivise and applaud businesses who are doing this.

The best paper award for day two was given to Nadia Veeran-Patel from ContinuitySA, for her presentation on cyber resilience. She stressed the importance of not just protecting yourself from cyber-attacks, but preparing yourself for when it happens to you – “and it will happen to you, if it hasn’t already,” she said. She discussed how the pillars of people, processes and technology need to be addressed for strong cyber resilience.

Site visits a success

For delegates looking for a more hands-on learning experience, site visits were arranged to Teraco’s data centre in Isando. Four visits over the two days saw 60 delegates visiting the vendor-neutral data centre to learn about the infrastructure required to keep such an operation going. This provided real-world insight into requirements around back-up power, energy monitoring, HVAC, asset monitoring, fire suppression and security.

Panel discussions: Refreshingly open and direct dialogue

Give the WOAN a chance!

Panellists participating in the High Demand Spectrum Policy discussion suggested that the much-criticised Wholesale Open Access Network (WOAN) should be given a chance even if no one else in the world has successfully implemented it. Debating the policy were: Paul Colmer, WAPA; Phatang Nkhereanye, Broadband Infraco; Mark Rotter, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance and Duduzile Mkhwanazi, Project Isizwe, with Hans van de Groenendaal, EngineerIT chairing the panel.

Dudu Mkhwanazi suggested that South Africans have a sound record of innovation and tend to make things happen where others have failed. A good example is the pre-paid telephone service which was pioneered in South Africa. The panel highlighted two issues that could delay the successful implementation, the fact there is no provision in the Electronic Communications Act (ECA) for a WOAN, which could delay the process as the ECA would have to be amended. Previous two draft ECA amendment bills were heavily contested by the industry and withdrawn by the Minister of Communication and Digital Services.

It is clear that government does not want to own the WOAN but favours an industry-led consortium, but currently there seems to be no eagerness from the mobile industry. Phatang Nkhereanye indicated that his company, Broadband Infraco, was approached by government but declined to give further detail. It he said it was early days.

“South Africans have been waiting for so many years and received so many promises about access to spectrum and broadband that. We at WAPA have decided to explore TV white spaces as an access to spectrum solution”, Paul Colmer said. WAPA have partnered with a number of organisations and last month launched the first project to connect remote villages in the Valley of a Thousand Hills in KwaZulu-Natal.

The panel focussed on other solutions such a dynamic frequency sharing which Mark Rotter said is a major feature in making the application of TV white spaces so successful.

The panel consensus was that the industry should be more involved, with government taking a back seat as a facilitator. On the question of if South Africans should be optimistic about the future of communication, they all agreed: “Yes, we are moving ahead!”

5G is not a hype, SA must embrace it

Given Minister of Communication and Digital Technologies’ view that 5G for South Africa must wait for the World Radio Congress 2019 outcome, panellists participating in the 5G panel discussion believe that delaying policy on 5G will again put South Africa on the back foot.

Participating were Ahmad Husseini, Ericcson; Jan Liebenberg, Nokia Southern Africa; George Debbo, SAIEE president, and Juanita Clark, co-founder and CEO of the FTTx Council Africa.

5G is about a big change in customer experience, it is about speed and low latency, it is about a revolution in technology that will support artificial intelligence, augmented intelligence and IoT which in turn will drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The panel was unanimous in their view that policies on 5G should not be delayed and that government should let industry run with it and only play an oversight role and not be the driver. Industry should work with ICASA to ensure that regulation supports fast tracking developments and not impede them.

The notion that 5G is just hype and that 4G could cover many of the use cases earmarked for 5G was discounted. While 4G could cover some use cases, panellists were of the opinion that it is the speed and in particular the low latency of 5G that is required.

The panel gave credit to the Minister for the recently issued High Demand Spectrum Policy but said that it is not going far enough and implementation is too slow. The rapid deployment policy to ease the burden of obtaining wayleaves for fibre and other installation is still pending.

Government should give more credit to the ability of industry to keep South Africa moving forward by not prescribing and interfering with what industry can do best. On the other side, panellists agreed that the industry must be open and communicate better with government. It is only with a solid industry/government partnership that South Africa’s communications woes can be solved and move forward to embrace 5G to get the country ready for 4IR.

The panel discussion on 5G, chaired by EngineerIT features writer, Hans van de Groenendaal.

Key technology showcase

Alongside the conference content was a world-class technology showcase which saw suppliers and service providers throughout the ICT value chain showcasing their solutions. Products on show included power solutions, data centre flooring, enclosers and cabinets, racks, PDUs, cabling accessories and security solutions for ICT infrastructure. Exhibitors did not just showcase their extensive offerings but also provided the opportunity for delegates to take home some items, thanks to many sponsored lucky draw prizes. Exhibitors were on point, and choosing the best stands to award no easy task! Eventually, the conference team managed to agree on our winners: the best large stand award went to Eaton, and the best small stand award went to Miro.

The award for best large stand went to Eaton.

The award for best small stand went to Miro.

Networking opportunities about

The Rocketeers.

The fantastic hospitality offered by Emperors Palace Convention Centre meant that there were many opportunities for ICT stakeholders to meet and chat over coffee and a pastry in the exhibition hall, in addition to the gourmet lunches provided. Additionally, day one closed with a vibrant cocktail party for all involved and featured a truly talented musical pair – the Rocketeers – who soon had everyone bobbing bittersweetly to a Johnny Clegg cover.

 

Feelgood feedback

Don’t just take my word for it that we featured a great lineup. I have measured its success by the comments received from delegates, visiting students, VIP guests and the presenters themselves – who throughout the event commented on the quality of each other’s content. The queries from delegates about when they can get their hands on the presentations, and the emails I have received from presenters asking for contact details for other presenters, have given me some reassurance that people found this to a be a very valuable experience. We aimed to be a destination for networking and learning, and I can say with confidence that we achieved those goals.

Thanks to all involved

We could not have pulled this off without support from our sponsors, exhibitors and endorsers. In an economy were caution is the norm, we had fantastic companies stepping forward to back ICT Infrastructure 2019: Africa Data Centres, APC by Schneider Electric, Brocade (Broadcom), ContinuitySA, EDS UPS, and Sterling and Wilson. Additionally, several key industry institutes put their names behind us and lent us their credibility: the SAIEE, IITPSA, WAPA, FTTx Council Africa, STE, and the ITA.

Onward and upward to ICT Infrastructure 2020: Watch this space!

If you attended the event, we would appreciate your feedback. Take our 2-minute survey here.

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