With 5G technology still in its infancy, little is understood about its potential impact on society – especially across the African continent. We were startled to learn recently, for example, that Ericsson and Audi were collaborating on human-robot interaction using 5G connectivity. And that has a knock-on effect in sectors that are highly relevant in this region, such as mining and manufacturing.
That was the starting point for a wide-ranging interview with Ericsson Middle East & Africa president Fadi Pharaon, who helped us unpack the future of 5G in Africa.
Arthur Goldstuck: Ericsson and Audi are looking at human-robot interaction, with one of the first use cases of an automation application connected via 5G, focused on personal safety. That is not a traditional role of telcos, but it seems to be an increasing one. How will such strategies play out in Africa, in terms of areas like personal safety?
Fadi Pharaon: Ericsson and Audi are stepping up their 5G collaboration by testing Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communication (URLLC) capabilities for factory automation. Smart factories of the future with automated production systems featuring robots and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) will be driven in large part by 5G connectivity.
As we continue to test the possibilities offered by 5G technology for industrial applications in the smart factory, 5G connects all the dots in our production environment, resulting in tremendous flexibility improvements, enhanced connectivity and a complete reimagining of what safe human-robot collaboration can look like.
Our collaboration with Audi is the perfect demonstration of how Ericsson is using the 5G technology to reinvent industrial safety and productivity today.
From an Africa perspective, we believe that such advanced technologies can in the future offer the telcos opportunities for new revenue streams by addressing industrial applications. For instance, in mission critical industries such as mining, remote-control machinery via 5G can be a great solution to ensure efficiency as well as health and safety of workers in that field.
AG: Are smart cities solutions viable in South Africa, and to what extent do Ericsson services support these?
FP: It has been proven that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) maturity strongly correlates to both productivity and economic competitiveness of a city. Transformation to a smart sustainable city requires a holistic approach that encompasses long-term planning, partnership and engagement.
As 4G, 5G, Internet of Things (IoT) and big data technologies become widespread in South Africa, the potential for ICT to solve the problems of cities will grow immensely. We are happy to see the development of ICT as a key element in urban infrastructure, just as important as roads, buildings and other physical infrastructure.
Ericsson plays a key role in smart cities by offering cutting-edge solutions to enable building a real smart city. Here are few examples:
- IOT accelerator: a robust solution built to connect and manage billions of devices and millions of applications easily, seamlessly and globally
- Connected Vehicle Cloud: which enables vehicles to be connected to a private cloud allowing control of multiple IOT use cases on it like fleet management, entertainment streaming and live road updates.
- 5G dedicated network solution: for providing infrastructure connectivity in cities
AG: What is Ericsson’s response to the crisis of COVID-19 and how can Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) play a role during these times?
FP: Ericsson is closely monitoring the development around the novel coronavirus and follows recommendations from relevant national authorities and international bodies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO). The responsibility for the health and safety of employees, customers and other stakeholders is the company’s top priority.
This is a challenging situation and as a global company with around 100,000 employees and presence in 180 countries, we are aware of our responsibilities towards the communities where we operate. Ericsson is taking precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of employees, to minimise the impact on the company’s operations and to prevent further spreading of the novel coronavirus.
As the world faces an unprecedented crisis in the form of Coronavirus COVID-19, ICT is playing a critical role in bringing people together while social distancing is being practiced across the world. More than ever, telecommunication including mobile networks enables families, health workers, public safety officials, education institutions and critical businesses to stay connected during this global crisis.
Our role through these challenging times is to ensure business continuity towards our customer operators so that the mobile networks many businesses and individuals depend on keep operating in a reliable and performing manner.
AG: What impact will emerging technologies such as IoT have on our society at large including communications service providers, industries and enterprises?
FP: The IoT market is rapidly growing and this indicates a substantial business potential for communications service providers, industries and enterprises. In Ericsson’s Mobility Report November 2019, it is forecasted that there will be 5 billion Cellular IoT connections by the year 2025. The globally estimated revenue from the IoT and 5G industry digitalisation is USD 700 billion by 2030.
Ericsson’s Cellular IoT solution addresses diverse use cases ranging from the more basic use cases such as asset tracking and smart metering to more advanced use cases, such as drones, AR/VR, to even higher demanding critical use cases like autonomous vehicles and collaborative robotics.
AG: Much has been said about the potential of fintech to change peoples’ lives. Please tell us about Ericsson’s efforts in this space in Africa and beyond?
FP: When it comes to financial services, it is a fact that a large portion of the Sub-Saharan population lives without access to financial services. These “unbanked” societies are forced to use cash and risk missing out on participating in the digital economy. According to a recent study by GSMA, Mobile money is central to the mobile industry’s contribution to 15 of 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
We take a lot of pride in seeing our Ericsson’s mobile money services introduced by our customer operators to several African communities addressing the challenges faced by unbanked communities. We believe that easy access to Mobile Money can make a tangible difference in the lives of unbanked communities. We will continue our focused growth of mobile financial services so that our service provider partners reach out to more communities across Africa.
We also see the potential of financial technology or “fintech” to improve disaster relief and humanitarian aid. Ericsson launched a few years ago the Ericsson Emergency Wallet, which builds on our Technology for Good and Ericsson Response initiatives as well as our long experience of developing scalable mobile financial service solutions. The Ericsson Emergency wallet is a mobile financial services solution for deployment in the immediate aftermath of disaster or crises to support humanitarian aid and affected populations. It enables the distribution and use of digital funds by relief workers and impacted populations, thus addressing issues such as safety, expense and traceability typically associated with cash.
All these examples are clear testimonies on the importance of “fintech” in changing peoples’ lives.