Bringing next-gen connectivity to Africa’s remote communities

Published: 19 February 2020 - 5 a.m.

Is full digital inclusion a possibility?

From boosting livelihoods, promoting financial inclusion and gender equality, and improving access to health, education, government services and more, ICT is an essential part of our lives. It helps advance equality, democracy, and freedom of expression. We are strong advocates of the role of ICT to enable the realisation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to frame the global development agenda over the next years. Our outreach, partnerships and solutions seek to bring the benefits of mobile technology to everyone to create a more inclusive and sustainable world.

At Ericsson we are convinced that providing internet access to the unconnected is both a great business opportunity and a powerful way to deliver on the SDGs. Our goal is to enable cost-efficient upgrade paths from 2G all the way to 5G and find viable ways to provide Internet for All.

In Africa today, more than half of consumers use mobile money services through an agent, and some 20 per cent use mobile money themselves on a mobile phone. However, the unbanked are the ones who are least involved in the formal financial system, due to factors such as distance to banks, education, and the inability to authenticate their identity, according to data from the Ericsson ConsumerLab.

The Ericsson Converged Wallet m-commerce solution is a new innovation which contributes to a more open, easy and accessible mobile money network in Africa. Together with our customer MTN, we will continue to deploy new products and provide Managed Services for Mobile Money services in 13 countries across Africa by 2024.

Is there an opportunity for countries with legacy infrastructure to leapfrog more developed nations when it comes to 5G implementation?

5G is not just the next step in the technology evolution from 2G (voice) to 3G (data) to 4G (LTE or better data) but a
potential game changer for Africa. Internet of Things is looking very positive, not only for industrialised countries, but for small and medium sized businesses in Africa wanting to use data analytics for quality and scale, and for NGOs and governments wanting to track and protect wildlife and also the environment at large.

Occupational Health and Safety, risk management and transparency are all areas where Africa might benefit hugely from the coming transformation.

The ICT sector in Africa continues to demonstrate dynamic growth, particularly driven by the mobile sector. Africa remains the region with the highest growth rate in mobile subscriptions globally. Looking forward to 2023, we foresee mobile subscriptions to exceed 900 million, total mobile data traffic growing 11x (compared to today), and 75 million cellular IoT devices being connected.

The entry of new technologies such as 5G provides an opportunity for positive impact in getting more broadband and internet users. The security, high speeds, low latency and massive number of
connections in 5G networks will support smart city and agriculture transformation in many countries in Africa. To leap frog, Africa will have to take advantage of the new technologies like 5G to improve the government, business environment and society as a whole.

Many African nations have large rural populations living in extremely remote areas, how can MNOs better serve these people?

Whilst mobile technology has lowered barriers to digital inclusion, rural locations, service quality and data costs still prove a challenge. Upgrading to a 5G network would increase digital inclusion, which is valuable in its own right, but it is also a requirement to support the mobile delivery of government services, including health services. These shifts will benefit consumer and business users directly, but also contribute to productivity and income growth throughout the economy.

Ericsson is a technology partner of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) and we are committed to support the MVP along with our partners by bringing voice and internet communications to approximately 500,000 people living in the village clusters, with the intention of improving social and economic conditions.

The integration of ICT quickly came to play a critical role in the project. As basic interventions in the areas of health, education, agriculture and entrepreneurship began to achieve success, ICT helped to take the fight against poverty a step further by empowering individuals and institutions with the ability to communicate, and to access and share vital information. Ericsson’s long-term engagement in the MVP demonstrates the importance of public-private partnerships and how they can help to spread the impact of mobile broadband in a way that enables the achievement of the Sustainable
Development Goals.

Are the costs of connecting remote communities ‘worth it’ for MNOs?

Whether you live in a megacity or a rural community yourself, you know the value in preserving people’s way of life, and allowing them to capture the benefits of the city without forcing them to move there. The increased coverage of 5G will do that like never before. For example, with farming: low-latency 5G networks let fewer farmers grow more crops more efficiently, for better yields and higher profits. Farms will be studded with sensors that collect data to feed back to machinery. Farmers will have full views of all their crops, all the time.

As we look ahead, it’s clear that Africa shows significant promise by way of 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 their 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.

What will connecting the unconnected bring to these communities and how will it benefit telecoms operators?

As ICT and broadband become central to the African society’s development, affordable broadband access will need to be extended to billions of individuals who remain economically excluded.
Broadband will further enable new
technologies environment like cloud, big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). Our research has revealed that 5G will revolutionise five key industries including TV and media,
healthcare, telecommunications, and transportation and infrastructure.

The architecture of 5G systems, will not only be cost-efficient to operate, but will also have the agility and flexibility in place for the rapid introduction of services. These solutions will be required to enable new business models that can rapidly
generate new revenue opportunities.

What new technologies are being developed to expedite the process of
connecting isolated communities?

The integration of an affordable broadband standard for 5G and accelerated development of innovative ICT services for developing market use cases in e-agriculture, education, e-health, mining, is of paramount importance.

Everyone must be empowered through digital literacy in how to use the services which will be enabled by 5G applications to reap the financial inclusion, health, social and other benefits it will offer.

Since its inception in Africa in 2010, the Connect to Learn program has been leveraging the power of mobility and cloud solutions to enhance the quality and access to teaching and learning resources in a safe, cost effective, and user-friendly way. We have brought technology tools, digital learning resources and new interactive forms of teaching pedagogies to schools and community learning centres in 12 sub-Saharan African countries

Through an initiative which provides ICT equipment, training and connectivity to young victims of conflict in South Sudan and Northern Uganda, we are leveraging technology to create positive, sustainable change in the region. Together with the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), and some of our mobile network operator customers, we have already impacted more than 31000 young people (direct and indirect beneficiaries) and have 12 local computer-equipped Community Learning Centres running in Africa.

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