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    Friday, August 25, 2023

    Unleashing Sustainable Digital Transformation in Nigeria

    Fadi Pharaon
    President of Ericsson Middle East and Africa
    The profound impact of mobile connectivity on Nigeria's society and economy cannot be overstated. The surge in digitalization, driven by robust mobile network infrastructure and innovative policies, has ushered in a new era of possibilities. This blog delves into the transformative power of connectivity in Nigeria, illuminating its role in catalysing sustainable development across various sectors.
    Empowering innovation and sustainable progress
    In recent years, Nigeria has witnessed an unprecedented surge in digitalization, with mobile network access assuming a pivotal role. The proactive investment in telecom infrastructure has paved the way for the widespread adoption of 4G technology, and the nation is stepping into the 5G era. This development has been facilitated by the Nigerian government’s strategy to leverage digital technology to diversify its economy away from reliance on hydrocarbons revenue (Oxford Business Group). Importantly, the government has established a conducive telecom policy environment where the right mix of spectrum has been allocated for the mobile industry, underpinned by the principle of spectrum neutrality.
    A strong ICT (Information Communication Technology) ecosystem is essential for efficient modern economies, enhancing business operations, public services, and job creation (Oxford Business Group). Mobile connectivity serves as the bedrock of innovative solutions and services that span diverse industries, underpinning Nigeria's digital transformation. With high-speed mobile broadband, consumers and businesses are gaining access to new types of services for both entertainment and productivity, accelerating the potential for positive effects on societal level.
    Let us look at a few examples of this transformation.
    The concept of the workplace has undergone a profound transformation, with remote and hybrid work models becoming part of the norm. A recent Ericsson ConsumerLab study even found that Nigerians today are working from home as much as, if not more than, during the pandemic. Over 65% of respondents now engage in remote work at least once a week, citing reliance on mobile broadband solutions – 3G/4G/5G routers or smartphone tethering – for home connectivity.
    Another impactful enabler is mobile money, which is playing a pivotal role in enhancing financial resilience, driving higher savings among Nigerian households and fostering financial inclusion of the unbanked. Unlike traditional cash transactions, mobile money offers transparent and secure electronic record-keeping, fostering payment security and economic formalization. The Central Bank of Nigeria's introduction of the payments service bank (PSB) license has catalyzed massive growth in registered agents – and jobs – and expanding mobile financial services to a broader consumer base (GSMA). Facilitating mobile payments is particularly important in a market like Nigeria, where 90 percent of businesses are small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and contribute for 80 to 90 percent of all customer-to-business (C2B) payments (McKinsey).
    Looking ahead, ICT possesses the ability to assume a key role in preventing climate change, empowering Nigerian industries to transition toward a low-carbon economic framework. Insights from Ericsson's research show that ICT solutions have the potential to curtail worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 15% by 2030.
    Expanding 4G towards the 5G future
    In the near term, there is a need for continued investments in 4G networks in Nigeria to build on the momentum of the uptake. While the 4G penetration rate continues to rise, significant portions of the population still lack access or remain on older network generations. The affordability of 4G devices remains a challenge, although promising strides have been made in recent years.
    A key accelerator to 4G growth is to have the right technologies and the right solutions that fit the reality of the specific market, while also facilitating the way towards 5G. Ericsson’s Radio 6626, which was developed for the specific needs of our African customers, is a good example. This radio can essentially do the job of six legacy radios, bringing tangible OPEX and energy savings by minimizing power consumption by up to 50% and reducing weight on tower. We have now deployed this radio with around 30 customers in 20 countries in Africa, and it is greatly contributing to the growth of 4G availability and paving the way for 5G introduction.
    Embracing the exciting possibilities of the future, Nigeria has embarked on its 5G journey last year. Communication Service Providers (CSPs) are already crafting their 5G strategies to cater to the evolving needs of both consumers and enterprises. Over time, 5G can enable ground-breaking consumer and enterprise use cases, such as AR (Augmented Reality) or VR (Virtual Reality) gaming, connected mines and automated ports. Realizing such transformative use cases demands robust, high capacity 5G networks, and widespread adoption hinges on the availability of 5G devices at an accessible price point.
    But in the early stages of 5G, before the device ecosystem is relevant for the mainstream users in Nigeria, we believe that there is enormous potential of home broadband, which can be captured leveraging 5G. With relatively low xDSL and fiber penetration in the country, Fixed Wireless Access is an early use case for service providers to monetize their 5G networks, and we are seeing an increased focus from Nigerian CSPs in this space. Offering wireless home broadband and TV services makes a lot of sense in many locations where fiber is not accessible.
    Nurturing the digital talent of Nigeria
    We strongly believe in the importance of education and nurturing of digital talent for economic development, and we are working actively with our partners to build the right foundation to propel the digital eco-system in Nigeria.
    On a foundational level, Ericsson is a partner to 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. The results can be viewed at Project Connect (unicef.org).
    With a young, tech-savvy and well-educated population, and a flourishing startup ecosystem, Nigeria has the potential to be a leading digital nation in the years to come. Ericsson is actively working with digital talent, through impactful initiatives. Last year we initiated a graduate program where we are aiming to recruit and nurture top technology talents, and we are soon onboarding the second batch of graduates. Another example is the promotion of the Ericsson Innovation Awards (EIA), a global innovation competition for university students. Earlier this year, we were happy to see Team Schrodinger Energy from Bayero University Kano finishing third for their REINLIGHT portable water disinfection system – yet another proof of the strong digital talent and innovative minds in Nigeria.
    As Nigeria enters an era defined by digital transformation, the power of connectivity has ignited a transformative journey, redefining how we work, interact, and thrive as a society. The strides made in 4G technology pave the way for an impending 5G revolution that promises to reshape industries and unleash unprecedented possibilities for sustainable growth. In this bright future, we envision a Nigeria where the digital divide diminishes, where innovation thrives across sectors, and where the benefits of technology reach every corner of society.
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