Managing Director, Ericsson Nigeria, Mr. Rutger Reman, spoke with Emma Okonji on the company’s network society initiative, and plans to position Nigeria on the global digital map. Excerpts:
What is the whole idea of digitising Nigeria from the Ericsson’s perspective?
Ericsson is a technology solution provider with operations in different countries of the world, including Nigeria. We have enabled digital economy in various countries of the world and Nigeria stands a better position to digitise its activities, based on the size of its population and the zeal for technology development displayed among its youths.
Ericsson has the key technology solution and government should be able to key into the solution that will drive successful digitalisation of the country. We are already in talks with the Nigerian government and some key industry regulators in this regard.
How will Ericsson, through its initiative to digitise Nigeria, be able to unlock the socio-economic growth of the country?
For the broad Saharan market, Ericsson has different initiatives to unlock socio-economic growth at different regions. We have successfully empowered mobile money in Kenya and Rwanda, using the Ericsson solution and we were able to do that because of the flexible regulatory policies of those countries. For Nigeria, what we need is a paradigm shift from our old ways of doing things to a new brand way that is purely driven by information and communications technology (ICT).
Nigeria is a highly populated country with wide landscape. So what the country needs is digital connectivity that will link the people with their mobile devices and home appliances devices, such that someone can sit in far away North and place an online order from a shop in South-south or South-east, through a connected systems which could be wireless.
There is so much to be done and I have had meetings with ministers, government agencies and parastatals, including industry regulators, to find out ways to achieve the initiative of digitising Nigeria and their responses were in the affirmative.
Nigerians must come together to discuss this and reach a point where they are ready to run with the initiative and Ericsson is always there to provide the support and technical expertise and solution to achieve the digital Nigeria dream.
There are lots of private sector initiatives in the country, and they need to come together to support the idea of digitising Nigeria.
How will Ericsson’s partners and customers be able to benefit from the company’s varieties of global ICT solution?
We have the solutions and we are making them available for Nigerians and organisations in Nigeria to take advantage of them. We are currently having talks with Galaxy Backbone, the government agency responsible for connecting all ministries, departments and agencies of government. So our solution covers various areas like aviation, road transportation, sea transportation, and we can digitally connect seamlessly to these sectors.
With a population of about 10 million people in Sweden, the headquarters of Ericsson, coupled with the available technology, it will be easier to drive industry transformation in that country. But that cannot be said of Nigeria with larger population and less infrastructure. What is your take on this?
We have the 4G LTE infrastructure that is fast to deploy and with high tendency to achieve better results. This technology can bring about rapid industry transformation in Nigeria, irrespective of the heavy population of the county. For us at Ericsson, we are rolling that technology and making it accessible and affordable to the people. So we will be talking more on cloud infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoTs) technology, which could be used to address a wider audience, at the federal and state levels. So what we will be doing as a company is to make our solution known to the public and to organisations that need rapid growth and expansion. We will be coming up with road shows sometime in June this year to sensitise more Nigerians on our initiative to digitise the entire country, using ICT solutions developed at Ericsson.
The processes with past initiatives from some technology solution providers to digitise Nigeria have been very slow. What will Ericsson do to make this whole idea of digital Nigeria come quickly?
Looking at the peculiar nature of the Nigerian society, I think one of the quickest ways is to continue with the push for a networked society, which has been the initiative of Ericsson. We need to sensitise the people, which includes the private sector and public sector practitioners, of the need to show commitment to digitise Nigeria. They should be able to work with our partners to showcase the Ericsson solutions to a wider audience and let them know of the capabilities of such technology solutions from Ericsson. Ericsson should be able to use modern technologies like the 4G LTE, 5G and cloud infrastructure, to prepare Nigeria for the digital era. Again, industry regulators have a great role to play in supporting our initiative and they should come up with laws that will support the growth of the initiative, without stifling it. Good policies will always help to drive the operators to do things and do them fast. Another thing that will further drive the digital Nigeria initiative is to make smartphone and other devices accessible and affordable. If these devices are in the hands of Nigerians, more people will be connected through the devices and be able to share digital information within seconds.
So what are the plans to carry along the regulators and stakeholders in this whole initiative of digitising Nigeria?
Definitely we have plans to carry along the regulators and industry stakeholders in this initiative of digitising Nigeria. We are already in talks with most of the regulators in Abuja, as well as government agencies, informing them of our intention and strategies to digitise Nigeria and the stakeholders are not left out too. We are using officials of the Swedish Embassy to further drive sensitisation in this direction. Again, we are working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ensure that the ICT sector gets the required allocation of foreign currency, which the CBN is currently doing, to pump more dollar into circulation that will allow ease of doing business in the country. It will help industry operators to place orders on technology equipment and be able to pay in dollars as they are shipped into the country.
Aside cloud infrastructure which Ericsson is keen at in driving the digital process, mobile solutions are equally key to digital transformation. What is Ericsson doing to connect more people via the mobile technology?
We are working with mobile devices manufacturers in this regard and we allow them to test their devices on our infrastructure to find out how seamlessly their devices could operate on the Ericsson infrastructure. We are also helping operators to build their infrastructure in such a way that it will work seamlessly with several mobile devices. All these will help reduce their operational expenditure (OPEX).
In digitising Nigeria, where most cities are already congested, would you rather develop a new city with allthe infrastructure put in place, or would you want to take connectivity to already existing but congested cities?
Handling both scenarios by developing new cities and connecting existing congested cities could be done using the right solution and Ericsson has the solution to address all of that. We can take Eko Atlantic for example, which is a completely new environment, as a case study. The infrastructure is installed even before people start moving in. The tranches for fibre infrastructure and made ready and operators are allowed to put in their own cables and connect directly. Again, most heavily populated cities in Nigeria can still be connected and digitised, even though it will be more expensive doing so because of the compensation that must be paid for damaged property. Istanbul in the Middle East is also a congested city like Lagos and we have just signed a contract to digitise the city. It is workable and could be achieved, but it comes with greater commitments on the part of government and our organisation, Ericsson.
What are the benefits of a digitised economy?
The benefits are enormous. It will ensure 24/7 connectivity, efficient management of infrastructure, easy to do business and great possibility of business growth in a quick manner. It creates available infrastructure within a given location and the people living there do not need to go out to get services that are available in the location. It gives the residents the opportunity to have faster connectivity, since everything could be done online from the comfort of their homes, officers and public places of relaxation.
Activities and governance will be done 24/7 and things will be done in real time. At the end, the state will make more money because revenue will be generated through automation from the cloud. If this is replicated in several cities, it will lead to decongestion of cities and reduction of rural-urban migration.
In the process of digitising Nigeria, how will you ensure public safety?
We place public safety very high because we have high esteem for people. We consider as important, the process of digitising all country borders and ensure public safety of the citizens. There is need to consider installing of sensors and cameras with artificial intelligence that are able to monitor criminal activities and illegalities of people. There will be a control centre to monitor the activities of people along the borders. When the borders are secured, it will prevent dangerous weapons from finding their ways into the country, and reduce national threat.
It is nine weeks since you were appointed managing director of Ericsson Nigeria. What is your agenda for Nigeria and what do you want to achieve in the first one year in office in Nigeria?
I have three main agenda, which centred on expansion of the Ericsson brand in Nigeria, building a formidable workforce that will grow customer base and digitising Nigeria.
After one year, I will want you as a journalist to come back and assess me in these areas of my interest for the company and for Nigeria. I will want to create jobs and double the workforce of Ericsson Nigeria. Ericsson has been doing business in Nigeria since 1960 and we want to further grow the brand in the country. In the plan of digitising the country, I will want to see a digitised Nigeria where virtually all things will be done online realtime.
Considering the current global challenges affecting economies, how is Ericsson positioned to serve its customers in Nigeria in a better and more efficient way?
Yes, Ericsson is not unmindful of global challenges affecting economies. Nigeria for instance, has its challenges of accessing foreign currency, coupled with recession that the government is trying hard to overcome. But in all of these, Ericsson is well positioned to put the country on the right track, hence our desire to digitise Nigeria.
Nigeria recently amended its bill and gave approval for electronic voting in subsequent elections. Do you think we can get it right based on the kind of infrastructure that we have on ground?
So many countries have challenges of infrastructure but they started from somewhere and it took them some time to get electronic voting right. So, Nigerian government has taken a good decision on electronic voting. What the government must do is to start developing the infrastructure-base of the country and with time they will get the whole process of electronic voting right, which can help eliminate electoral fraud.