Blixell: Connectivity Critical Enabler of Social, Economic Change

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Vice President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, Nicolas Blixell, speaks about how emerging technologies can enhance connectivity that will drive social and economic change in Africa. Emma Okonji presents the excerpts:

With the slow and steady growth of technology in Africa, how will you describe its potential and how does Ericsson plan to tap into emerging technologies to speed up Africa’s technology growth?

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. According to our latest Ericsson mobility report, LTE was estimated to account for around 15 per cent of subscriptions by the end of 2020. By 2026 mobile broadband subscriptions are predicted to increase, reaching 76 per cent of mobile subscriptions, while 5G and LTE subscriptions will continue to grow over the next six years. The development of LTE 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 digitisation in all critical aspects of life, such as education, transport, health, energy and even homeland security. Ericsson has been working in close partnership with African service providers on 5G for tests in the laboratory, field trials, and now initial customer test deployment. Throughout this process, our customers and their service requirements are our top priority. Our aim is to build a network to cater for current and future required services.

Businesses globally are looking for new ways to survive post COVID-19. What role can Ericsson play in ensuring business survivability in Africa?

The pandemic has driven adoption and increased usage of many information and communications technology (ICT) services that have enabled consumers to build a new normal underpinned by connectivity. The massive disruption caused by COVID-19 has demonstrated the criticality of the network in today’s society and we are currently working closely with our customers to keep their networks running. The current COVID-19 restrictions have demonstrated the benefits of a digitised economy, facilitating working from home as an example. This could prove to be an opportunity for Africa to accelerate its journey towards raising the role digital and telecom services play in a socio-economical context. With our commitment to innovation and long history of engaging in Africa’s telecom industry, we at Ericsson are driven to deliver the next-generation technology solutions to Africa. These can enable sweeping changes to industrial production, allow seamless access to societal services and provide people with ways of living harmoniously with their environment.

Ericsson recently launched the #AfricaInMotion campaign. What does the campaign seek to achieve and what are the parameters for measuring the success of the campaign?

Africa represents a world of opportunity for us at Ericsson and we are eager to grow our business and presence in the continent. We see a real potential in African markets when it comes to 4G and Fintech adoption. To address that, we focus on supporting our customers in the African markets with relevant and cost-effective 4G solutions and services, all while adapting to Africa’s requirements. The continent has emerged as one of the strongest adopters of innovation, with the rapid rise in usage of technology and smartphones. Just look at how mobile money was initiated in Africa and is now surging all over the continent. Moreover, Africa has come a long way in its digitization journey – from mobile telephony to broadband, and from connecting to digitizing key economic sectors, jobs, education, healthcare, government and society in general.

We all agree that Africa is witnessing a major technology shift and the pace of change in Africa is becoming exponential. At Ericsson, we have launched #AfricaInMotion to accelerate technology roll-out in Africa together with our partners and reiterate our commitment to the continent.

Ericsson has had several campaigns for African countries in the past. How successful were those campaigns and what were their impacts?

Ericsson is working with key service providers across the continent, helping them create new services, new customer bases and new digital ecosystems. At the forefront of the digital transformation, MTN selected Ericsson for the deployment of a live 5G network in Africa.

As a partner, Ericsson is deploying next-generation technology with built-in customizations and innovations to deliver rich consumer experience while building a robust, future-proof network. The 5G-ready solutions in the Ericsson Radio System portfolio will help boost the capacity of MTN’s LTE network and broaden the availability of high-quality mobile broadband services for its subscribers. In a related development, Telma Madagascar switched on their 5G commercial network to offer subscribers high-speed services enabled by the new generation of mobile connectivity. Powered by Ericsson, the 5G network is now live.

Most African countries, including Nigeria, are making preparations for 5G launch, amidst agitation from citizens for fear of perceived health hazards. How will you advise African governments on this and what is the position of Ericsson in 5G rollout?

The power levels of the radio signals transmitted by 5G radio equipment will be of similar or lower magnitude as those used in previous networks. 5G devices will be designed and tested to comply with established radio wave exposure limits. 5G base stations will be positioned so that the exposure in homes and public areas is well below the limits. Independent expert organisations have established the exposure limits for radio waves based on many years of research. The limits are recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO), among others, and include large safety margins. 5G equipment, whether it be mobile devices or base stations, will meet the same safety standards as the equipment used in previous mobile communication networks. World Health Organisation states: “From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short- or long-term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF signals produced by base stations” and “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” This could bee seen in WHO’s fact sheets No 304 and No 193.

What are some of your latest technology solutions and how have they impacted on business growth in developing countries?

Ericsson has highlighted digital transformation and innovation solutions to propel Africa towards the future with an interactive exhibition dedicated to Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain, Fintech, Cloud, data centers and security. As part of our Africa in Motion campaign, Ericsson’s focus at the event is on building the networks of Africa and accelerating its digital agenda using AI and automation as value creators. Ericsson has also presented innovative solutions to improve the efficiency of its customers’ network operations, allowing them to focus on new services and technologies, and ultimately improve the experience for the user – driven by Ericsson’s Africa in Motion campaign.

How will you describe government policies across African countries and how such policies make or mar technology development?

A conducive, enabling policy environment that generates regulatory certainty is key to encouraging market development through partnerships, entrepreneurship, job creation and knowledge sharing. So we need factors like: timely availability of ample, cost-effective and harmonised spectral resources; support of long-term stable network regulations that uphold the principle of technology neutrality, stimulate investments and foster infrastructure competition; provision of free flow of data, while ensuring data protection, privacy and security regulation, to boost technology development. Ericsson has a long history of close collaboration with various regulatory entities in Nigeria. We at Ericsson Middle East and Africa are constantly looking for opportunities to collaborate and engage with partners across the board to facilitate such policy development to fast tracking digitization across the African continent and our recent collaboration with the African Telecommunications Union is one clear example.

What are Ericsson’s contributions towards the development of technology startups in Nigeria and other African countries?

Access to mobile services in Africa continues to grow, however, broadband access remains low in comparison to other parts of the world. We are working with customers across Africa to build best performing network intelligence and automation solutions for increased speed and efficiency. One of the initiatives we launched in-light of our efforts to supporting young talents is our “Ericsson Graduates Programme,“ a programme that will offer fresh graduates a chance to join experienced Ericsson staff for on-the-job, online and classroom learning followed by recruitment to join the Ericsson world. The programme also engages with young talents from Africa -the Change makers-to explore and identify innovative ideas, that reflect and capture the needs of the continent with an ambition to accelerate the African markets’ digitalization journey. When it comes to empowering young talents and innovation, we can proudly mention the Ericsson Innovation Awards (EIA), a global competition that gives university students the opportunity to turn their ideas into reality by collaborating with EIA mentors. In 2018, a team from Senegal was selected as the overall winner of the Ericsson Innovation Awards winning an amount of €25,000 for their idea that addresses lack of school labs in Africa. This year we are excited to launch the same competition very soon and we look forward to receiving ideas from young students from Africa and across the world.