Cryan: Connectivity, Critical Enabler of Social, Economic Change

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Mr. Sean Cryan,

The Country Manager, Ericsson Nigeria, Mr. Sean Cryan, spoke on the importance of technology application in addressing the spread of COVID-19, and how technology will be an enabler in contributing to innovative solutions in the post-COVID-19 era. Emma Okonji brings the excerpts:

The outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China in 2019 has posed some challenges to science and technology, since there has been no known cure to it. How can technology be used to contain its spread?

As the world faces an unprecedented crisis in the form of Coronavirus (COVID-19), information and communication technologies (ICT) is playing a critical role in bringing people together while social distancing is being practiced across the world. ICT at this time is an open ecosystem that empowers and accelerates the ambitions of all those who meaningfully engage with it.

The potential for ICT in connecting people and sharing knowledge instantly during crisis is game-changing and universal. It is also transforming many social and economic aspects of our lives, such as education, healthcare, business and professional development. Many business organisations have taken a precautionary approach to limit the spread of COVID-19 by advising their employees to work from home. As educational institutions quickly pivot toward online learning, both students and teachers have found great value in the use of digital tools and connectivity. In a time of crisis, information and communication are critical. Mobile networks are an essential part of the communications backbone that enables health workers, public safety officials and critical businesses to stay connected during this global crisis. Without technology, people wouldn’t be able to stay connected to perform their activities remotely and that is how technology is becoming extremely essential to contain the spread of the virus.

The right information dissemination is critical at this period of fast spread of the Coronavirus. How can technology be of help in proper information dissemination?
With many of us in isolation, the spotlight is on the national telecommunications infrastructure. We’re all relying on our devices for everything from getting essentials to checking on family, to communicating and sending information between emergency and utility services. More than ever, information, unified collaboration, and telecommunication including mobile networks form a critical backbone that enables families, health workers, public safety officials, education institutions and critical businesses to stay connected during this global crisis.

IT departments are busy scaling their gateway networks and cloud computing systems to make sure home workers can receive and send emails, access company data, participate in audio and video conferences, and collaborate effectively, during this period of lockdown. How can technology help in managing such situation?

All networks, mobile as well as fixed, are dimensioned to handle the peak load during the busiest hour of the week. The fact that people are staying home during the entire day has not changed this although the load has increased during daytime. Ericsson is committed to stay close to its customers during these challenging times and help them provide the best possible connectivity and network quality. Ericsson engineers and field staff are working to keep the networks up and running. The deployment of Ericsson Radio Systems increases the speed and capacity of mobile broadband services for subscribers and enterprises, while at the same time expands coverage for better service in remote and urban areas. Through our partnerships, we have demonstrated the powerful role ICT can play in transforming societies as well as humanitarian response by creating long-term solutions that support both efficiency and efficacy.

What is the latest technology that will change the world and how can countries and organisations leverage the technology?

When looking at the development in this industry over the last few years it is truly astonishing to see the progress. 5G is the next generation of wireless technology and is key to empowering new services and use cases for people, businesses, and society at large. Previous generations were centred around consumer and personal communications. 5G will serve consumers, enterprises and take the internet of things to a next level, where superior connectivity is a prerequisite. The 5G specifications were accelerated in 3GPP, leading to device and infrastructure vendors taking on the challenge to deliver 5G earlier than expected. It is encouraging to see that 5G now has broad support from almost all device makers, and a very strong ecosystem. So far, a majority of the launch markets are charging a premium averaging almost 20 per cent for 5G subscriptions. Today most of the investments, traffic and subscriptions are in 2G, 3G or 4G networks. Modernizing existing networks, improving network performance and increasing user experience, continue to be at the core of every service provider’s day-to-day business. By 2025, we expect 5G to have 2.6 billion subscriptions covering up to 65 per cent of the world’s population and generating 45 per cent of the world’s total mobile data traffic.

What is your view on the efficacy of emerging technologies like IoT, AI, and ML in transforming the globe and how can economies leverage on these emerging technologies?

As we move toward intelligent society and industry, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be integrated into almost everything – learning, adapting and intelligently automating. The real value of AI, however, is not limited to applications which connect to the network, but will ultimately be realised in the networks themselves, being instrumental for the evolution of the network and an enabler of future network management. This leads us into an era of intelligent, autonomous networks – serving up the speed, scale and capacity of intelligent society and industry – with close to zero touch.

One major challenge of tech startups is lack of funding. How can African startups get access to funding to promote their business?
The development of Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology and 5G digital infrastructure is an integral part of Africa’s growing economy and has proved to be an essential driver of an inclusive information society that integrates digitization in all critical aspects of life, such as education, transport, health, energy and even homeland security. All of this, of course, carries significant potential to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa. From an Ericsson perspective, we support startups through Ericsson Ventures; an entity that invests in companies with focus on emerging growth areas for Ericsson, Ericsson customers, as well Ericsson core businesses. Ericsson Ventures invests across all stages with focus on sectors aligned to the core business of Ericsson. Areas of focus range from radio technology to IoT, AI, software defined networking, analytics, connected cars, security, wireless, mobile advertising and Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Having a stage agnostic approach, Ericsson Ventures invests in every early stage company the closer the company is to Ericsson’s core business, whilst opting for a mature company, with proven track record, existing products and a solid track of high revenue generation, the further the company is from Ericsson’s core business.

What is the importance of big data and data analytics in organisational growth and how best can African countries generate data for national development?

Various technologies already exist to collect, analyse, and report on pandemic-related data. It is important to use different sources of data in order to create an accurate view of a crisis situation. The simultaneous collection of some available data, with due permission, can provide analytics platforms with enough information to produce accurate reports that help governments and organizations to take the right decisions.

Technology has been used to support distant learning and remote healthcare. How effective has this been with developing countries that that are still battling to grow their broadband penetration?
Connectivity is a critical enabler of social and economic change. Its dynamism constantly offers us new ways to overcome both global and regional development challenges. If leveraged for good, the introduction of 5G and expansion of LTE networks across Africa can accelerate this process exponentially. Some of the ways we are connecting Africa for the better include: Mixed reality for urban design together with UN-Habitat (SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities); Innovative approach to mitigate and adapt to climate change through Ericsson Weather Data (SDG 13: Climate action); Use of mobile financial services to reduce inequalities through Ericsson Mobile Wallet (SDG 10: Reduced inequalities); ICT in Education and our Connect to Learn initiative (SDG 4: Quality education); Role of technology in peacebuilding with youth through the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) (SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions); and Public Private Partnerships to Connect the Unconnected through the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

What is your general assessment of technology development and growth in Africa, and what can be done to improve on it?
As we look ahead, it is clear that Africa shows significant development in economic, technological and infrastructural growth over the coming years. Yet, there are still many challenges we must overcome if we are to deliver real sustainable change for all. While there are parts of the continent on the cusp of 5G rollout, there remains other parts where 3G and 4G are still in infancy. More than just a business opportunity, digitalisation is fundamental to achieving all 17 of the SDGs and a powerful way to make a positive impact on society. To truly leverage the full potential which this offers, it’s important we reach out to all stakeholders across government, and public and private enterprise. This is how we make positive, sustainable impact in areas such as climate change, education, human rights and humanitarian response.

What is Ericsson doing to boost connectivity and network quality in organisations?
The demand on both voice and data has grown, so it is critical we are out there. With our team of field engineers, working day and night to manage radio and mobile network sites across the world, we’re ensuring network operators can continue to offer world-class connectivity and coverage.
As a global company, we have a process and organisational set-up to deal with potential issues that our company may face, both to ensure the health and safety our employees and to minimise impact on our operations. Ericsson’s Group Crisis Management Council is responsible for the handling of major incidents or crisis.

How is Ericsson leveraging the power of technology to transform societies, especially developing societies?

In light of the revolutionary technological advances that are changing the African continent, a comprehensive technology framework needs to be in place to put Africa at the forefront of digital transformation. At this turning point, Ericsson is proud to contribute to this journey and use next generation technology to enable rapid improvements in industrial production, societal services and people’s way of living and interacting with their environment. Industries everywhere are under constant pressure to improve product quality, boost factory efficiency, stay competitive, enhance safety, security and sustainability, and remain profitable. By creating a digital foundation, automation will increase productivity and performance. This will deliver inclusive socio-economic development and accelerate rapid service improvements and digital readiness across societies and industries. We, at Ericsson, are committed to using our technology to contribute to new innovative solutions for a better tomorrow, and our aim is to develop solutions that support growth in Africa.