Ogundele: Access to Connectivity Key to Africa’s Sustainable Growth

Ericsson Nigeria Country Manager, Mr. Peter Olusoji Ogundele, in this interview with Emma Okonji, speaks about the opportunities of digital transformation and the roles of Ericsson in enabling access to connectivity that will drive sustainable growth in Africa. excerpts

What has been the role of Ericsson in enabling sustainable growth in Africa, through ICT?

With connectivity enabling digital technologies that play key roles in digital transformation, we have dedicated our efforts to enhancing our network products and solutions to ensure our partners across Africa have access to strong and reliable connectivity that aids them on their digital transformation journey. We are also helping our partners leverage analytics and automation capabilities made possible by cellular technology and assisting them in building dedicated cellular Internet of Things (IoT) networks.

As digital adoption opens new opportunities for communication service providers (CSPs) and accelerates sustainable development in Africa, we have focused on enhancing our digital service offerings to modernise, digitalise and shape new business models for telecom operators across the continent. Our digital service offerings range from automated network operations to cloud core and cloud infrastructure. These solutions help us secure and grow the business and customer base of CSPs through innovative customer engagement platforms, automated operations, and programmable networks.

It is imperative that the right technologies and the right solutions are available to telecom operators in Africa. With this in mind, we have worked on a new addition to the Ericsson radio portfolio, which we have tailored to the specific needs of our customers in Africa. This new radio (6626) provides multi-standard and multi-band coverage and will bring tangible operational expenditure (OPEX) benefits by minimising power consumption by up to 50 per cent, reducing weight on the tower, and faster rollout due to reduced installation time. In the coming years, we aim to work alongside CSPs across the continent to deploy this advanced energy-efficient radio solution.

Last week, Ericsson released its latest Mobility Report. What aspect of sustainable growth opportunities does the report highlights?

In the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, we have observed the demand for mobile voice and data services continues to grow in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the last two years, investments in telecom infrastructure have accelerated, including mobile coverage and fixed wireless access (FWA) build-out, enabling service providers to address additional subscriber segments with mobile broadband. Data traffic is expected to continue rising as the transition to 4G networks continues, coupled with the availability of more affordable 4G devices and data packages. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa, data traffic will maintain an upward trajectory, as mobile broadband-capable devices become more accessible. In markets such as South Africa and Kenya, recent spectrum allocations will enable service providers to extend their coverage and capacity of 3G/4G networks.

The recently concluded COP27 meeting in Egypt focused so much on addressing climate change in Africa. How can African countries leverage ICT to address the challenges of climate change on the African continent?

The climate crisis is universally acknowledged as the defining issue of our times. Successfully combating climate change will rely on technological solutions, innovations, and cross-industry collaborations. ICT and digitalisation are key enablers of reductions in global greenhouse emissions. According to Ericsson Research, ICT solutions have the potential to enable a 15 per cent reduction of emissions across industries by 2030 and move society toward a low-carbon economy. Technologies such as 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoTs) have become essential drivers of decarbonisation and part of the solutions that have been featured prominently at COP27.

Industries across Africa have much to benefit from the adoption of these digital technologies. In the manufacturing sector, for example, 5G connectivity combined with the latest technology can produce significant efficiency gains on the manufacturing floor as well as collaboration across different industries. In the transportation industry, the synergies that result from collectively and systematically integrating transportation and communication networks—such as telematics, smart city analytics, and traffic management solutions—can quickly lead to efficiencies that reduce emissions. With Africa being a major producer of metals and minerals, cellular networks deliver new levels of economic value at lower environmental impacts. Ericsson’s Connected Mining solution offers a future of greater safety, profitability and environmental responsibility.

Digitisation and connectivity will directly enable the transition to a greener, lower-carbon future and play a role in helping to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. It is important governments across the continent support investments in connectivity and 5G to help achieve the shared goals of a transition to a net-zero future and a more sustainable economy.

How has the poor infrastructure development in Africa, affected sustainable growth in Africa, and what can be done to address it?

Since the pandemic, Nigeria has been focusing investments on digital transformation initiatives and building the digital infrastructure and ecosystem in the country. Digital technologies such as AI, IoT, and machine learning are promising to usher in new ways of living, learning, and working throughout Nigeria. These technologies rely on the high throughput and low latency provided by cellular networks like 5G, and we are committed to working alongside the government and network operators in the region to bolster Nigeria’s infrastructure to support next-generation connectivity.

Although 5G infrastructure is still in its early stages in Africa, CSPs across the continent are making significant efforts to boost infrastructure deployment and enhance their networks to increase the continent’s 5G readiness. African governments have also been taking big stepsby introducing initiatives to promote infrastructure projects, as digital infrastructure becomes increasingly impactful to the development of the continent’s economy. By fostering an ecosystem of collaboration, we are committed to ensuring CSPs across the continent have access to the best-in-class connectivity solutions and practices to accelerate Africa’s sustainable growth and ensure Africa reaps the benefits of the digital age.

How has the birth of digital skills in Africa affected sustainable growth and how can this be addressed?

With Africa entering the digital age, digital literacy is becoming more important than ever. A large portion of the current workforce in Africa will need training or retraining in digital skills.  As new and emerging technologies shape industries across the continent, youths entering the workforce will also need to learn Industry 4.0 focussed skills. Moreover, as digital technologies drive entrepreneurship across Africa, the development of vocational and hands-on skills will become crucial in ensuring economic prosperity on the continent. 

I want to stress that digital skills are a ladder to opportunities. This is why we have been running our flagship educational initiative ‘Connect to Learn’ across Africa to empower teachers, students, and schools to deliver a quality 21st-century education and provide young people with digital skills. We work with Africa’s talent from a young age, from Ericsson Digital Labs to inspire children to explore new technologies to Ericsson Educate for tertiary students, to prepare them for the world of work. By also focusing on Girls in ICT and supporting digital literacy and access to ICT resources in marginalised communities including refugee centres, we contribute towards the pool of digital skills which Africa needs for development and growth.

Nigeria recently launched 5G technology, through MTN. How will the technology enhance development and sustainable growth in Nigeria?

The first phase of the launch covers certain parts of Lagos and Nigeria where Ericsson’s 5G technology will accelerate the development and digitalization of key sectors such as education, healthcare, and manufacturing. It will also empower consumers and enterprises with innovative 5G applications that will unlock the true potential of IoT, AI, smart cities, and immersive communication over augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for millions of new consumers in the country.

The Ericsson Radio System will enable operators to provide advanced Mobile broadband & fixed wireless access services which shall unlock a range of new opportunities in the Enterprise domain. The new 5G services can bring about unique sustainable development initiatives for agriculture, energy, financial inclusion, and security, among others, overcoming past institutional challenges and barriers to growth.

5G holds massive potential in transforming African societies and dramatically enhancing the day-to-day experiences of users. However, to reach that potential, service providers must take a proactive approach to 5G, focusing on service innovation and value creation. This means involving creative partners in the process and embracing new business models and ways of working together to create appealing services for consumers.

Fintech Players in Nigeria have continued to disrupt the financial services sector with lots of technology innovation. How can Ericsson further develop the Fintech ecosystem in Nigeria?

As a connectivity provider, the adoption of mobile money is a key focus for us and the significance of mobile money in Africa is enormous. Mobile money generates financial resilience and facilitates higher savings for households. Unlike cash transactions, Mobile money electronically records all transactions, improving the security of payments, it promotes transparency and fosters the formalization of the economy, In the long term, Mobile money also has the capability to reduce the rate of poverty in Africa and increase the financial independence of Africa’s residents. However, developing the communication infrastructure and making the use of the technology simple and trouble-free for the consumer is vital for the long-term adoption and success of Mobile money in Africa. 

To help meet these financial service demands across Africa and help foster the continent’s economic growth, we have been committed to providing our telecom operators across Africa access to our innovative mobile financial service solutions and products such as the Ericsson Wallet Platform (EWP). Being a flexible and secure network, EWP has provided telecom operators in Africa with a more agile and compliant IT architecture to enhance performance in managing the flow of mobile money transactions. By working closely with the region’s CSPs to strengthen and develop their core mobile money platforms, we aim to promote financial inclusion and economic development in Africa and drive the adoption of mobile money in the region.

To further evolve the Fintech ecosystem, EWP is enabling advanced mobile money services like e-commerce payments, QR Code based merchant payments, micro-loans, overdraft, buy now pay later, insurance and investments, in addition to conventional services like money transfers, airtime top-up and bill payments.

What is Ericsson’s projection about technology growth in Nigeria and Africa in the next five years?

With smartphone adoption and data subscriptions rising in Africa, the continent is about to witness exponential change. 5G and the digital technologies it enables like cloud, IoT and AI-based services are set to help countries across Africa overcome the shortage of physical infrastructure and skills stumbling their access to education and healthcare. We are already seeing Africa head in the right direction with several schools, institutions, and NGOs working together to break the digital divide and increase access to connectivity across the continent.

To prolong the current momentum of digital adoption, reduce the connectivity gap across the continent, and ensure the strong social impact of connectivity and digitalization, a strong ecosystem of partnerships and collaboration will be crucial. By continuing to build a robust ICT infrastructure in Africa, we are committed to driving digital development across African societies.

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