13:30-14:00 Bridging the Digital Divide

Presenter: Prof Andrew Forbes

Prof Andrew Forbes

Andrew received his PhD (1998) from the University of Natal (South Africa), and subsequently spent several years working as an applied laser physicist, first for the South African Atomic Energy Corporation and then later in a small start-up company.  In 2004 he joined the CSIR National Laser Centre where he was Chief Researcher and Research Group Leader of the Mathematical Optics group.

In March 2015 Andrew joined the U. Witwatersrand as a Distinguished Professor and has established a new laboratory for Structured Light. Andrew chairs or serves on the committees of several international conferences, OSA and SPIE committees, and serves on the editorial boards of Optics Express and J. Optics. He is active in promoting photonics and popularising science, a founding member of the Photonics Initiative of South Africa, a Fellow of both SPIE and the OSA, and an elected member of the Academy of Science of South Africa.  In 2015 Andrew won a national award for his contribution to photonics in Africa and in 2018 was awarded an NRF A-rating.  He spends his time having fun with the taxpayers’ money, exploring structured light in classical and quantum optics.

South Africa has one of the highest inequality factors in the world, reflecting its developed and developing nature.  As such it suffers from the traditional “digital divide”, with low internet connectivity reach in rural areas, which is both economic and geographic in nature.  While overcoming the divide is challenging without infrastructure, the lack of legacy networks offers a rare green-fields opportunity to realize a future network that is unconstrained by existing paradigms.  In June 2017, a meeting was held in South Africa to develop a roadmap for the deployment of optical networks across Africa in a sustainable manner, hoping to “turn the digital divide into a digital opportunity”.

In this talk I will summarize recent proposals to bridge the digital divide and offer a South African perspective on the problem.  I will cover active research in South Africa on the topic and speculate what the network future in Africa might be, and what this would mean for social and economic development.