At the sidelines of the UN Broadband Commission Annual Spring Meeting in Kigali, we caught up with Eric Ekudden, Ericsson Group Senior Vice President and CTO.
Q. What is the outlook of mobile broadband connectivity Africa
A. The outlook is really very promising and good, we have not only learned from the tragic pandemic in the last two years how important mobile broadband is and how important it is to connect weather it is for remote health, or remote education or frankly to connect the whole society.
The Prospects and opportunities with mobile broadband, 4G technologies, 5G technologies is really great and it is going to increase faster here in Africa than anywhere else in the world largely because the needs are very clear.
Q. What are the key initiatives to bridge the digital divide in Africa.
A. The broadband commission is an initiative that has been wooing for 10 years now with a purpose to further broadband both in terms of universal connectivity and affordable connectivity.
We want to promote deployment and use of broadband technologies, this has a lot to do with making mainstream technologies like 4G and 5G available, but also to create an enabling environment around broadband, as well as ensuring that services are universally available.
We have a number of initiatives we are working on, around education, Ericsson has a connect to learn activity, we are also working with ITU on the Giga initiative which is about connecting all schools around the continent, we also working to ensure affordability of divides, we are looking at how to work with the health sector.
We also come with policy recommendations to governments in terms of furthering universal and affordable connectivity.
Q.What is the latest update on 5G rollout in Africa? What’s next?
A. 5G is the next technology coming after 4G, it is a new technology all around the world, here in Africa we are starting to see interest in upgrading 4G networks to 5G.
There are a number of African countries that are exploring proof of concepts, trials even early commercial services. Over the coming five years there will be fantastic uptake of 5G across Africa.
Why do you need 5G?
It comes with greater user experience, for instance faster speeds giving you faster downloads, access, video experience, but 5G is really much more to connect society at large, weather it is an SME, a school, government agencies, all these will benefit from a high performing network.
5G really takes that next step, reliability, resilience and a service you can rely on. All these things are built into 5G.
When this becomes the new digital Infrastructure of a country or a continent, you can start creating innovation on top 5G.
As I mentioned education, health, agriculture, transport, logistics, smart manufacturing where 5G helps lower energy consumption, reduce waste.
We have seen a lot of good evidence that 5G is now becoming this digital fabric, the digital infrastructure, digital platform that a country needs to digitize all its other sectors.
This really is a big change from the previous generations.
Q. What are the latest technologies deployed by Ericsson to support mobile financial services?
A. In financial services I think Africa is the leader, this comes from the mobile money experience that has been pioneered in Africa. We are a proud provider of the underlying infrastructure for mobile money and other services around Africa.
Q.Where are the opportunities now
A. The opportunities are in health, agriculture and education, these three sectors are going to go through the same transformation that phones went through to become smartphones, now we have apps, cloud based services.
It is a disruptive process from a technological and a business model point of view, but it is a necessary and very important step that countries are going through.
Q. How can we leverage connectivity to address inclusion and access to education?
A. We can do much based on the technology that is available today, 4G and soon 5G because that provides the lowest cost of connectivity. Our main focus is to ensure that we provide connectivity to schools, there are millions of schools that are not yet connected.
The next stage would be driving financing for connectivity of these schools and then connect them with the latest technologies like 4G, 5G and in some cases Satellite technologies.
We are also supporting with a learning package through the smart Africa initiative, to see how we can be a facilitator of new knowledge be it on 5G, lot, machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.