Jemdahl: Collaboration Imperative for Technology Development

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Managing Director, Ericsson Nigeria, Mr. Johan Jemdahl, spoke on the relevance of collaboration in the technology sector, and how the recent partnership between Ericsson and Galaxy Backbone will drive technology development in Nigeria. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts

Ericsson, penultimate week, signed MoU with Galaxy Backbone on technology solution. What value will this bring to Nigeria?

Yes, Ericsson and Galaxy Backbone partnered to use information and communications technology (ICT) to transform public services in Nigeria and the initiative will make Nigeria strides towards deploying e-Government solutions to enhance public sector delivery.
The partnership will enable Ericsson work closely with Galaxy Backbone, the government and private agencies to build new roadmaps and implement solutions for industry transformation.

The partnership is in keeping with government’s commitment to leverage ICT for job creation, improved security, economic diversification and social inclusion as well as supports the Minister of Communication’s vision to deploy e-Government as a tool to improve governance and efficiency in the delivery of quality public services.
Under the terms of the partnership spanning three years, Ericsson will serve as advisor, systems integrator and implementation partner for ICT based solutions and services covering the transport, utility and safety and security sectors of the economy.
Ericsson will also manage all deployed solutions and services while building capacity within Galaxy Babckbone and partner public parastals ensuring that all deployments are eventually handed over to the government along with selected private sector players.

What prompted the MoU signing between Ericsson Nigeria and Galaxy Backbone?

Societal needs triggered the collaboration. Nigeria has needs and both companies are technology companies that could use technology solution to address the needs of the country, and this is the reason why we had to sign the MoU in order to bring our technology expertise to bear and address the needs of the country. The needs of the country transcend the citizens and it is our desire to address these needs with our technology solutions.

Again, the MoU agreement signing was triggered by the discussion that took place between Ericsson and Galaxy Backbone some months ago in Abuja, where we had a couple of meetings with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
Before the discussion, we knew that Galaxy Backbone was working on a project to provide connectivity to government agencies and offices, and based on our own technology background, we found some areas where both organisations could collaborate to provide world-class technology solutions to government. The collaboration, when concluded, would drive Business-to-Business. We are a technology company with presence in 190 countries, empowering technology business and connectivity and we desire to continue doing same in Nigeria, having been in Nigeria for 40 years and paying tax regularly.

Although we have not streamlined what each company will be doing in the collaboration as regards to specific projects, but we have agreed to work together as technology companies. What we did was to set out three areas we could collaborate, which include security, transport and power.

Based on the new areas of collaboration, how do you intend to address the issues with transport, security and power in Nigeria?

Ericsson already has solution for the transport system that will make transpiration a lot easier without spending so much hours in traffic. In the area of power, we need to ensure best use and distribution of generated power. Still on power, the issue of smart metering has to be addressed. We intend to provide solution that will give accurate billing of power consumption. For security, there is need to develop solution that will connect the police in better ways to enable them perform at their best. Apart from fighting crimes, the police should also be able to prevent crimes if they have the right technology solution that will assist them in doing so. These three areas are key to national development and we are going to be working together to achieve results in these areas, but it is too early to decide on the measures we will take to address issues in these key areas, because we just signed the MoU penultimate week.

Singling transportation from among the identified key areas of collaboration, how does Ericsson intend to reduce the heavy traffic situation on Nigerian roads, especially roads in the cities like Lagos, Port-Harcourt and Kano, using technology solutions?

We have solutions for efficient traffic management and the same solutions could be applied in different cities where people experience traffic jam. For us to successfully address transportation issues, first, there is the need for us to know the volume of demand and supply of vehicular movement in any given city, the number of registered cars in that city, the peak hours of vehicular movement, and the directions of movement. If we have these data, we could plan vehicular movement in a more dynamic way such that there will be less cars on the roads at the same time. We will also weigh other means of transportation apart from road transportation, and see how they can work well for Nigerians. If the transportation system is well addressed, commuters will find it a lot easier to move without spending hours in traffic, and they will consume less fuel and save money.

Several state governments have the vision of developing their states into smart-city states. How will the collaboration of Ericsson and Galaxy Backbone help in driving smart-city initiative in the country?

Smart-city vision is a good initiative that should be encouraged and only technology solution can make smart-city dreams come through. Like I said earlier, the two companies are technology solution providers and we can collectively work out solutions that will drive smart-city initiative in the areas of power, security and transportation, which are the three key areas we are collaborating on.

For me, smart-city initiative is all about connecting the cities, and technology is driving the initiative. If every city is fully connected, it means there will be orderliness. Everything will be timed and there will be situations where trash bins will communicate and call for evacuation of contents and fridges as well and refrigerators will communicate to inform the household that drinks, water and foodstuff have been depleted. It is an era where virtually everything will be connected with wifi and 4GLTE technologies and they will begin to communicate with humans, including roads, hospitals and schools. This is what smart-city initiative is all about, and we have the solution to drive the initiative.

There is a new thinking about smart-city initiative, which is about whether to develop new infrastructure in an entirely new community and make it smart-city ready, or develop smart-city in an existing community. Which is more appropriate judging from economies of scale?

I will say one is easier and the other complex. Now it is easier to develop smart-city in an entirely new community, and create new infrastructure in that new community. But I tell you, this will be more expensive to achieve, considering the financial involvement. However, it will be much cheaper to develop existing communities into smart-cities, but it is a complex job to achieve because many existing structure will be affected and many have to be redirected, while some will give way completely. But whichever is chosen, there is cost implication and the end result is that people living in smart-cities are more comfortable and government generates more money in a smart-city environment. The analogy is this. It is easier to build a new house than to reconstruct an existing house to taste.
But Nigeria has no choice but to build smart-cities, be it in new communities or in exiting communities like Lagos.
Nigeria is currently passing through economic recession. As a technology company, what kind of advice will you want to give government in moments of economic recession?

If you look at the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), you will discover that ICT is a major contributor to GDP. Therefore there is need for increased mobile banking, financial inclusion, and connectivity. If people are connected with their devices, they will not feel the impact of recession. This is true because connectivity gives access to the internet and there are lots of things Nigerians could do on their own when connected to the internet, without relying on government. So what government needs do in time of recession, is to empower its citizens technologically and allow the citizens to drive the economy, especially Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
Empowerment of people in the society is key because it will drive development and cushion the effect of recession.
Empowerment in the area of technology is the way out of recession. When people are empowered they will be encouraged to go into small scale manufacturing through which they could sustain the country and even have surplus for export, thereby supporting international trade that will bring in foreign currency. So my advice is that government must empower her citizens technologically. Again, government must make policy regulation a lot easier for technology companies. Policies on import duties for technology equipment should be reviewed downward and policies that will protect home grown and locally developed products should be encouraged.

At the World Economic Forum held in May this year, Ericsson announced a strategic partnership with the SMART Africa Alliance. Is there any possibility of Nigeria becoming a member of that alliance?

Nigeria is not part of the alliance and the benefit for member country is enormous. About 10 to 11 countries formed the Smart Africa Alliance initiative and Nigeria and South Africa are not part of it. There is an interest for Nigeria if it joins the alliance, but again, it depends on the government of Nigeria to take such initiative. Ericsson was only given a role by some specific countries and that is where Ericsson came into the scene.

Ericsson has been at the forefront driving the network society initiative. How far has this initiative gone?

The network society is Ericsson’s vision and initiative and the vision is to ensure that everything that needed to be connected, must be connected. It is a long term vision and we believe that the vision is playing out well, because that is where the world is actually heading towards. It is about connecting everything possible to make life a lot more easier for everyone. Now the number of people with SIM cards in Nigeria is over 150 million and the number runs into billions globally and what this means is that people are connected globally and can communicate with each other, and that is Ericsson’s vision for the world. Demand for data is on the increase and the more we have enough broadband data connectivity, the world will become a better place for everyone. This is true because people will get information from any part of the world, and that is the vision for Ericsson. Again, today we are talking about 50 billion connected devices globally and that means more people and devices will be connected.

Technology providers are gradually moving from 3G to 4G LTE technology. What value is the 4G LTE technology bringing to the technology space?

The fourth generation Long Term Evolution (4G LTE technology) is the latest technology that is gradually driving development in the world. Most countries are beginning to adopt the technology because of its unique value proposition, which is all about speed of connectivity. People are in a hurry to do things and they want the technology that will give them the required speed, and that is what 4G LTE is offering, aside other benefits.

The Founder of FaceBook, Mark Zuckerberg was in Nigeria penultimate week to energise Nigerian technology startups. What is your impression about his visit, which is his first to Africa?

The visit was a welcomed development for Nigeria because Nigerians are very active in social media interaction like Facebook, Instergram, among others. We have lots of Nigerians that are passionate about technology and they need encouragement from within and outside the country.

What is your view about the country’s broadband penetration level?

Nigeria is in the lips of every investor, but the challenge is about the economic situation of the country. People like to invest where they are sure of returns on investment and Nigeria has to get its broadband policy right, such that broadband begins to drive activities in the country and you will see investors running into the country to invest in broadband. The country has a huge market and this should be well maximised, but its broadband penetration rate is still low.