Fadi Pharaon, President, of Ericsson Middle East, and Africa, speaks on how Ericsson’s collaboration with mobile operators in Nigeria has propelled financial inclusion and created an advanced digital ecosystem that aligns with the country’s digital journey. Chinwe Michael brings excepts.
How is Ericsson’s commitment to Nigeria’s ICT market development manifesting? Can you show us your contribution to the evolution of the sector?
Ericsson’s presence in Nigeria dates back to 1978 providing infrastructure software and services in the information and communication sector for telecommunication service providers and enterprises including 3G, 4G, and 5G.
Several factors are known to spur economic growth, and one of them is technology. With a population exceeding 200 million people, Nigeria boasts one of the largest and most rapidly expanding telecommunications markets in Africa.
The Information and communications technology (ICT) sector in Nigeria has, in the first quarter of 2023, delivered N2.508 trillion in terms of financial value contribution to the nation’s GDP, representing 14.13 percent.
Laying the foundation for the country’s digitalisation by providing telecommunications infrastructure and technology solutions is driving digital inclusion, enabling more Nigerians to access information, services, and opportunities online.
Through our innovations, we have improved energy efficiency and operating expenditure savings. This means our partners can invest in other areas to expand coverage and adoption. Our longstanding partnership of 21 years with MTN Nigeria recently led to a historic 5G launch. These initiatives are already having a positive impact on the country by increasing broadband penetration, digital literacy, and digital innovations, bridging the digital divide, and ultimately contributing to the country’s digital transformation efforts.
The latest Ericsson Mobility Report reveals that Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to be the region with the highest growth in total mobile data traffic, rising by 37 percent annually between 2022 and 2028 as service providers across the continent continue to invest in 4G networks and migrate customers from 2G and 3G. Nigeria had one of the greatest net additions of subscriptions during the first quarter of 2023, with around 4 million subscriptions added.
What partnerships do you propose to customers to sort out their challenges?
We believe in partnerships for development and continue to partner with our customers and stakeholders to address some of the challenges facing the industry. For instance, when it comes to extending connectivity to underserved communities and rural areas, we have forged collaborations with communication service providers to work towards delivering affordable and dependable mobile broadband services to remote rural regions with limited or no connectivity. Through our Ericsson Rural Site solution, which encompasses all vital components for 4G broadband coverage, we ensure a seamless and efficient deployment process, ultimately providing high-speed connectivity to underserved communities.
We are also partnering with operators to address the issue of e-waste. We approach this challenge through effective reuse and recycling practices to minimize the environmental impact of our products at their end of life. Our Product Take-Back Program ensures that these products are recovered and managed according to rigorous environmental standards.
Recognising the crucial role of policymakers and regulators in our advocacy for favorable regulatory conditions and spectrum allocation for 5G, we partnered with Smart Africa Digital Academy (SADA) to train 100 policymakers and regulators across 19 African countries. This training equipped them with a deeper understanding of the functioning of existing and emerging technologies, as well as their impact on the economy, citizens, consumers, and businesses.
How about solutions for local markets?
Our various solutions and initiatives are supporting Nigeria’s development and digitalization, ushering in a new era of possibilities. We are supporting local businesses and organisations leveraging our technological advancements, including the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), across various industries. We also demonstrate our commitment to fostering local talent in Nigeria through various initiatives like workshops, and mentorship programs to empower local talents and encourage innovation.
We partnered with the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) and UNICEF Giga initiative to connect schools to the Internet. In Nigeria, we have supported and validated school network coverage information from crowdsourced data, which was then analyzed using Ericsson’s artificial intelligence capabilities. Over 109,000 schools were mapped – a key step in addressing school connectivity gaps.
Through our “Connect to Learn” initiative, we implement ICT in schools, while our ”Ericsson Educate’’ program continues to enhance the digital skills of students by giving them access to Ericsson’s curated learning content with a focus on modern technologies.
Last year we initiated a graduate program where we aim to recruit and nurture top technology talents, and we are soon onboarding the second batch of graduates. The Program has just welcomed six fresh graduates in Nigeria who have joined our organization. The brilliant individuals have experienced different roles in Engineering, Information Technology, Artificial Intelligence, and Strategy and Commercial Management.
You are here to meet with people and talents you’ve championed. How do you show commitment to local teams?
We work in an innovative environment where we constantly grow and learn new things together, driven by our four key principles of Respect, Professionalism, Perseverance, and Integrity.
Our Graduate Program in Nigeria continues to develop the technical and business skills of participating students because the digital age demands whole new talents. Six bright Nigerian graduates joined our company this year, taking on positions in engineering, artificial intelligence, and other fields that will influence the future.
Additionally, we make a conscious effort to develop the skills and leadership abilities of our staff members and offer several initiatives that help them advance more quickly to positions of leadership in Africa and elsewhere.
How is Ericsson ensuring a connected Africa?
Ericsson has been connecting Africa for over 100 years and has built wireless networks for every generation – from the early 1G networks to the first advanced 5G networks.
We are bridging the digital divide, continuing to build a robust ICT infrastructure, promoting sustainability, innovation, education, and entrepreneurship. Our commitment is to leverage our technology in boosting resilience and inclusive growth in Africa. By achieving that, Africa will experience a paradigm shift on all levels with new game-changers such as e-health, e-government, and e-education; the African society will accelerate into a much more economically advanced nation. However, collaboration between the different stakeholders in the ecosystem becomes even more important than ever to achieve this vision.
We team up with the African Telecommunications Union (ATU) on spectrum recommendations that support Africa’s transformation into a knowledge economy through the development of technologies that boost connectivity and innovation. Our partnership ensures spectrum usage harmonization, encouraging affordability and accessibility for all users across Africa, thereby laying the foundation for social and economic advancement on the continent. Another key collaboration that supports our mission to accelerate digitalization, is our partnership with Smart Africa Digital Academy (SADA) to adopt the Ericsson Educate program to enhance the digital skill competencies of ICT ministries, policymakers, and regulators’ top management in member countries of the Smart Africa Alliance, drawing 100 participants from 19 countries.
How critical is digital in securing Africa’s future?
Digitalization in Africa is poised to transform the ecosystem, advance sustainable development, and create opportunities for all by improving livelihoods, promoting financial inclusion, and facilitating access to health, education, and government services.
Mobile money services have become an essential, life-changing tool across the continent, providing access to safe and secure financial services but also to energy, health, education, and employment opportunities. One key example to showcase our efforts in that area is our Ericsson Wallet Platform which allows users to securely store, transfer, and withdraw money; pay merchants and utility providers; and use financial services such as savings and loans.
We believe that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the catalyst for digital transformation, with mobile networks being the crucial ingredient in increasing Africa’s economic competitiveness globally.
How is Ericsson ensuring and investing in the network to connect Africa?
As part of Ericsson’s efforts to tailor our innovation to Africa’s reality, Ericsson launched the Radio 6626 which brings tangible OPEX and energy benefits by minimizing power consumption by up to 50% and reducing the weight on the tower. We have now deployed this radio with around 30 customers in 20 countries in Africa, contributing to the growth of 4G availability and paving the way for 5G introduction.
In addition to addressing the challenges of coverage and penetration, rural areas in Africa also require innovative solutions to bridge the digital divide. Ericsson recognises the importance of rural connectivity and has been actively developing solar-powered rural site solutions that require minimum civil works to extend network coverage and enhance connectivity in remote areas. This includes our suite of advanced radio technologies that bring significant benefits, including reduced energy consumption, lighter weight, smaller volume, faster installation times, and fewer cabling requirements.
Another area to accelerate digitalisation and reap the benefits of prospering Africa’s people and society is enabling financial inclusion. With the Ericsson Wallet Platform, we have been capable of greatly impacting financial inclusion across the continent by enabling consumers to be part of the digital economy in an easy, secure, and safe way.