The Department of Science and Technology (DST), Nokia and Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) have started the implementation of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) regarding a number of mobile technology research and development (R&D) initiatives in South Africa.
The MoU was initially signed in Finland in May, after work on establishing the agreement started in September 2010, and was said to be the first of its kind within the Middle East and Africa.
The agreement was co-ordinated and owned by the DST as the principal agent for boosting innovation in South Africa. Nokia and NSN were not contracted to the DST, and the projects and initiatives were funded through the companies’ R&D and corporate social investment budgets.
Nokia VP Jussi Hinkkanen said that the MoU contained nine initiatives, although these were not static and more could be added.
One of the first initiatives to be implemented was the Mobile Application Lab (M-lab). The lab, based in Pretoria, has been constructed and would be formally opened in September. It would house a number of permanent, as well as temporary researchers who would focus on developing mobile applications, particularly for rural areas in the sectors of health and education.
The M-lab was a larger collaboration between Nokia, the DST, the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the Finnish government, the Innovation Hub, the Innovation Lab, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and Ungena Africa.
The other initiatives included the Research Ambassadors programme, the Open Innovation Summit, the Mobile Learning for Maths initiative, the Nokia Education Delivery initiative, the Universal Access to Mobile Technologies and Services Programme, the Nokia Data Gathering initiative, advisory on the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, and the Graduate Trainee programme.
NSN South Africa MD Rufus Andrew said that the company would assist the DST in an advisory capacity on the SKA project, with particular reference to the technical requirements for the transmission of data, as well as the business perspective on what this might cost.
He said that the project would likely have to transfer some 15 petabytes of data a second when operational.
“We look forward to a partnership that will help strengthen Africa's bid to host the SKA – the largest radio telescope ever. I am confident that the partnership will help enhance the capabilities and competencies required to build and operate a mega scientific infrastructure project of the magnitude of the SKA. In fact, the computing power required for the SKA, when fully completed, will be on a scale never seen or heard of before. The project will have to be matched with the knowledge and capacity to deal with the demands for large-scale data storage, processing and high-bandwidth requirements,” said Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
She added that the department was not “locking out anyone” and sought involvement from as many vendors and roleplayers as possible. She noted that in terms of the SKA project, the department was collaborating with partners such as Intel, Dimension Data, Microsoft, IBM, as well as Eskom and Telkom.
Pandor stated that one of Nokia's key success factors was significant investment in R&D. “It is therefore logical to conclude that the partnership that we are formalising today will focus primarily on mobile technology R&D and innovation, which should result in the development of new services, applications and content on mobile platforms. This should ultimately lead to innovations in business, education and healthcare, and increase accessibility to markets and government services and information.”
She noted the importance of ensuring that ICT developments made a positive difference to the socioeconomic profile of the country.