Rhodes University’s Professor Alfredo Terzoli is dti Technology Awards finalist

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Rhodes University’s Professor Alfredo Terzoli is a finalist in the 2012 Department of Trade and Industry (dti) Technology Awards in the Human Resource Development category.

The dti Technology Awards recognise individuals and organisations that significantly contribute towards technology development and innovation in South Africa.

“Twenty years ago you could phone Telkom from your landline and ask to be awakened at a certain time.

It sounds like the simplest of services, but it was a significant breakthrough because it was the starting point of a long journey to what is now known as Service Delivery Platforms, that have created the opportunity to develop and deploy more efficient, more affordable multimedia services to all of us today,” says Professor Alfredo Terzoli, head of the Telkom Centre of Excellence in Distributed Multimedia in the Department of Computer Science at Rhodes University.

The project in the finals of the awards is titled ‘Mobile Services for Ubiquitous Communication and Multimedia Delivery’ or Mobi-Ser, and Terzoli credits his whole department for getting into the finals.

“All the services currently available on your cellphone and many more can be hosted on Mobi-Ser’s service delivery platform which is what we have developed at Rhodes and which has adaptors that can adapt the service to whatever end point is desired. This is a very active field in telecommunication at present that aims bring more efficient, more affordable connectivity and multimedia to everyone,” explains Terzoli.

Service delivery platforms like Mobi-Ser will have the capacity to offer the widest possible variety of future services, ranging from live translations into any language to video telephoning to registrations of births, deaths, marriages and divorces (in collaboration with Home Affairs) to cashless societies where all financial transactions can be done via the mobile phone.

“What we are doing with Mobi-Ser in the Centre of Excellence at Rhodes is to build our own interpretation of a service delivery platform that can handle mobility more efficiently, at a lower cost and at the same time to be able to deploy it to every sector of society,” says Terzoli.

“It’s about backend efficiency essentially and we are pushing the boundaries of who can be reached by ICT. For me and several of my postgraduate students it is particularly important to develop a platform that can serve all of society, including the most marginalised, rural communities, as part of our drive to advance ICT for Development.

Mobi-Ser is built with non-proprietary, open source tools (as was most of the work at Google, for example), which is complementary to the research environment.

“Open source is all about free, large-scale collaboration, which is a trademark of much research and development in the ICT sector,” says Terzoli. As part of this ICT for Development drive in 2006 he initiated what is known as the Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL) that has introduced ICT skills and technology to 17 schools (with learners at some of the schools numbering as many as 400 to 600) and their associated communities in the rural Dwesa region of the Eastern Cape.

“Our research and work is made possible because of the support our Computer Science Department and Centre of Excellence (CoE) receives from the dti and our industry partners,” says Terzoli who has headed the CoE for the past fourteen years.

“The CoE was established at Rhodes University in 1997 and has, without a doubt, been the enabler of a major step up in postgraduates and research output in the Computer Science department. What it made available were funds for research equipment and student support.”

The CoE at Rhodes focuses on distributed multimedia and brings together the research expertise within the Department of Computer Science, contributions from other departments at Rhodes and at other tertiary institutions (nationally and internationally), and input from industry partners.

Telkom is the CoE’s anchor partner, and its other partners include Tellabs, GENBAND, Easttel, Bright Ideas Project 39, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) through the Technology and Human Resources for Industry Programme (THRIP) and the National Research Foundation (NRF).

The Centre operates under the management of a joint academic/industry steering committee, and has high-level representation from the partner industries and from the DTI through the NRF.

“It is a strong example of a triple helix at work, where academia, industry and government come together to pool resources and improve the competiveness of the industry, via the preparation of highly skilled practitioners and the co-development of appropriate technology,” says Terzoli.

With the recent addition of end-users of telecommunication solutions, such as the Dwesa communities, the programme now embodies a quadruple helix approach, which Prof Terzoli believes adds great value.

There are 16 Telkom Centres of Excellence, each hosted by a tertiary education institution. Together they constitute the largest Research/Development/Innovation initiative in ICT in South Africa.

The winners of the dti Technology Awards will be announced at a gala dinner at the Mittah Seperepere Convention Centre in Kimberley on 15th November.

Photo by Ross Shackleton