As a continent with very high potential for growing economies, how can African countries accelerate their digital adoption and leapfrog into a new era of socio-economic prosperity?
This could be achieved by leveraging new technologies that make it easier to conduct business, raise productivity and efficiency while encouraging an inclusive society. Embracing new ways of enabling positive change will boost livelihoods, promote financial inclusion and improve access to health, education, government services and more.
“With the ambition of supporting the acceleration of Africa’s digitization journey, we are working jointly with our customers – the service providers – and other stakeholders across the continent to enable #AfricaInMotion”, explains Fadi Pharaon, President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa.
Digitization Boosting Economies
Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the catalyst for digital transformation, with mobile networks being the crucial ingredient in increasing Africa’s economic competitiveness in the global arena. “While we have witnessed impressive market developments in recent years, Africa’s ICT sector still has growth potential compared to leading economies’’, said Fadi Pharaon.
As digital infrastructure and transaction become increasingly impactful to the development of the African societies and economies, affordable broadband access will need to be extended to over a billion individuals to bridge the “digital divide” and enable them to reap the benefits of the digital economy.
The Ericsson Mobility Report shows that, by 2025, 77% of subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa are expected to be for mobile broadband, while in Sub-Saharan Africa mobile broadband subscriptions will increase to reach around 72% of mobile subscriptions. Mobile broadband connectivity not only offers great potential to transform cities and industries, but it enables connectivity as a basic human right; fostering inclusion and making a positive, sustainable economic impact.
Sustainability Through Connectivity
Bridging the digital divide is a demanding journey both for the public sector and the telecoms industry. This carries significant potential to contribute to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa. In order to achieve that, there is a continuous ongoing journey serving several parameters.
Education for the economic development of Africa is primordial. ‘‘Our efforts to support education in Africa is a continuous determination and for that we are proud to launch our three-year global partnership with UNICEF that will help map school connectivity in 35 countries by the end of 2023. Our partnership will support the UN’s Giga initiative, a global program led by UNICEF and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) that aims to connect every school to the Internet’’, said Fadi Pharaon.
Another key example in supporting education is the “Connect to Learn” program, an initiative that implements Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in schools often in resource poor settings to enhance the quality and access to teaching and learning resources in a safe, cost effective, and user-friendly way. The program uses the power of mobility, broadband and cloud solutions. Thanks to that program since 2008, over 500,000 people, students and teachers at remote villages across 10 sub-Saharan countries are connected to technology tools, digital learning resources and new interactive forms of teaching pedagogies.
‘‘We also focus on another fundamental goal and that is financial inclusion through the use of digital technology which is an essential element in furthering the economic development of Africa. 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 the efforts in that area is our Wallet Platform that allows users to store, transfer and withdraw money; pay merchants and utility providers; and use financial services such as savings and loans’’, explains Fadi Pharaon.
According to Ericsson research, ICT solutions could help to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by up to 15% by 2030, amounting to around ten gigatons of CO2e—more than the current carbon footprint of the EU and US combined. Examples of areas where the savings can be enabled by ICT solutions are transportation, energy, industries and agriculture. This is reflected in initiatives such as Ericsson Weather Data and Mixed Reality for Urban Design.
Clearly, the SDGs provide a unique opportunity for interesting discussions that will lead to more multi-sectoral partnerships and opportunities that will help spur progress towards meeting the goals.
Partnerships and Collaborations for Societal Impact
What is now needed is a framework that facilitates harnessing the power of ICTs to foster inclusive socioeconomic development across Africa. However, this bridging of the digital divide – which promises to level the global playing field so Africa can achieve its full potential – requires a well-planned policy and regulatory environment.
-A conducive, enabling policy environment that generates regulatory certainty is key to encouraging market development through partnerships, entrepreneurship, job creation and knowledge sharing. Factors like:
-Timely availability of ample, cost-effective and harmonized spectral frequencies 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
The President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa pointed out : ‘‘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’’.
Accelerating the Future
As we look ahead, it’s clear that Africa shows significant promise for economic, technological and infrastructure 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 trialing 5G services, majority of countries remain focusing on 3G and 4G as smartphone affordability improves year on year. The development of advanced wireless digital infrastructure is an integral part of Africa’s growing economy. Mobile broadband access has proved to be an essential driver of an inclusive information society that integrates digitization in all critical aspects of life, such as education, transport, health, energy and even homeland security. Never has this been more evident than during the current COVID 19 pandemic.
‘‘We are focusing on assuring best performing networks in Africa, while also offering the best digital services and solutions to our customers. Our aim is to create a unique customer experience evolving from networks adopting automation, artificial intelligence and analytics. One of our focus areas also is reducing time-to-market and flexibility in launching services for our customers towards their subscribers. From an operations perspective, we emphasis driving service delivery efficiency through adoption of advanced tools. We will continue our purposeful growth of mobile broadband, fixed wireless access and fintech services so that our service provider partners reach out to further communities across the continent’’, said Fadi Pharaon.
A promise to Africa
Tackling the digital divide, continuing to build a robust ICT infrastructure, promoting sustainability, innovation, education and entrepreneurship will be critical for maximizing the role of 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 as e-health, e-government and e-education; the African society will accelerate into a much economically advanced nation. However, collaboration between the different stakeholders in the ecosystem becomes even more important than ever to achieve this vision.
“Our promise and commitment towards the continent are to always support a world where digitalization is transforming the eco-system; enabling sustainable growth, economic development and opening up opportunities for all”, said Fadi Pharaon.
“To accelerate our promise to Africa and achieve a true impact, we are looking forward to supporting our customers in their quest, bringing our latest innovation, leveraging our global skill and scale to the benefit of Africa’s digital development”.
Fadi Pharaon is the President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa