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For more than 140 years, Ericsson has been continuously at the forefront of innovation. The tech giant has been a key player in the MEA region with its outstanding network infrastructure, dependable services and ability to understand and capitalize on the latest industry trends.

Telecom Review secured an exclusive interview with Ekow Nelson, vice president and head of global consumer unit Etisalat and Pakistan at Ericsson Middle East and Africa. Nelson is a highly experienced telecom and IT executive who has an exceptional reputation within the region and proven track-record of delivering and introducing digital technologies as well as complex digital transformation solutions in over 40 countries across the MEA region.

Coping with the pandemic

Following the outbreak and continued spreading of the novel coronavirus, Ericsson closely monitored the development and have strictly adhered to the recommendations from relevant national authorities and international bodies.

The vendor has been relentless in its efforts to take necessary precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of their employees and to minimize the impact on the company’s operations. It was the first of the major vendors to announce its withdrawal from the annual Mobile World Congress in February. 

Moreover, the company announced its continuous efforts to ensure its mobile networks remain a critical backbone for public services, businesses and families worldwide. In the new world of social distancing, the requirement of many businesses to work from home and schools to offer remote learning, has confirmed telecommunications’ role as a critical national and economic infrastructure.

Nelson commented, “We at Ericsson are proud to be working with our customers to maintain reliable networks to enable continued economic activity and minimize disruptions to daily lives.”

Capitalizing on 5G

5G is a relatively new technology which uses different spectrum bands, while also improves the spectrum efficiency on the existing bands to provide new capabilities around latency, speed and connectivity. It has been widely speculated that it will drive new types of use-cases which would include artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, among others. This technology is set to transform connectivity, business opportunities and customer experiences as we know it.

“On the consumer side, we are beginning to see new sets of use cases such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) coming but we expect the impact of 5G to be more prominent on businesses and enterprises. 5G provides the opportunity for telcos to be part of the digital transformation of other industries,” said Nelson.

When asked about technology trends in the MEA region, he commented, “All industries are going to go through digital transformation. Many factories are being reconfigured now and many have begun to introduce robotics and other untethered, intelligent devices. With 5G on the rise, many factories may want to capitalize on it to create smart and intelligent factories. I expect that we are going to see a complete transformation in the industrial sector.”

Indeed, operators are beginning to see the potential that 5G holds and are seeking to capitalize on it.

Commenting on the current state of the manufacturing sector with the prospect of 5G infrastructure on the rise, he said, “There is a potential race between large companies that operate in large campuses who want to run their own 5G networks as opposed to operators who have the experience of running highly industrialized, stable and robust networks to their factories whilst also managing all the intelligent equipment within the client-organization. I feel that this is going to be one of the biggest shifts that industry will face, if does happen.”

“Today, anyone and everyone who can afford a phone, has got a phone. Now the question that remains is, how do we put that intelligence into all of the different objects and what value will it generate?” he remarked.

Navigating a diverse socio-economic region

The Middle East and North Africa is a very diverse socio-economic region, with countries which have fully deployed 5G, some which are in the process of setting up their infrastructure for it, while others are still using 3G.

When asked about the region’s telecoms ecosystem, he stated, “I think that we are quite fortunate; we have operations in two worlds. We have got the more advanced Middle East which allows us to showcase technology leadership and we’ve also got much of Africa with the potential for 4G accelerating development.”

The GCC is home to one of the industry’s most advanced markets. Nelson echoed this sentiment and said, “Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Qatar have all gone ahead and launched 5G and have invested significantly in boosting their infrastructure to prepare for it. In many ways, the Middle East is far ahead of Europe and it is among the leading market players in 5G, especially because Europe is still struggling with spectrum allocation.”

Ericsson has been relentless in its efforts to drive digital inclusion in Africa as it does not have 4G penetration on the same level as the GCC. The vendor has been working towards developing customized 4G packages to drive 4G growth in Africa and is investing in its R&D to build specially customized solutions that would be more cost-effective and suitable for the environment.

“We are trying to accelerate development and digital inclusion in Africa to help drive it towards the same level as the GCC.”

Another part of Ericsson’s digital inclusion strategy would be the introduction of mobile money. Nelson mentioned that some of the vendor’s work in Africa includes providing platforms that deliver banking services to the un-banked.

Mobile financial services have recently gained a lot of traction in the GCC. “If you take countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, they have got a lot of expat workers who may not have credit cards, and this basically enables them to engage in digital payments. However, Africa is the main place for this technology when it comes to our digital and financial inclusion strategy,” said Nelson.

Building strategic partnerships

“At Ericsson we have technology leadership. We have a presence in over 180 countries. We invest a significant amount in our R&D and I think that the quality of our products, our people and our commitment to our customers are basically what differentiate us and have made us a dependable partner to work with.”

Ericsson recently signed a deal with Mobily in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deploy various network products- such as 4G and primarily 5G- in an effort to drive digital transformation. As part of its digital transformation strategy, its aims to drive the IoT market in Saudi Arabia.

When asked about this deal, Nelson said that a significant aspect of it would be to launch 5G.

Nelson told Telecom Review that he believes there is a huge demand for data and Ericsson aims to ensure that the best customer experience is provided which is being achieved by making sure that the network is up to scratch and fit for purpose.

As part of the Swedish vendor’s strategic partnership with Etisalat, which operates in 15 countries across the region, they planned to expand 5G coverage in the UAE following the commercial launch of 5G last year as the high consumption of data was beginning to take its toll on the existing 4G networks which were unable to support it as efficiently.

In terms of their Etisalat partnership and involvement in North Africa, Ericsson tested 5G on commercial network with Etisalat Misr and reached speeds of up to 1.4 Gbps. This proof of concept is a step in 5G readiness and the successful trial represents an important milestone for Etisalat as technology leaders. It also exemplifies Etisalat and Ericsson’s commitment to develop and test new use cases and applications, which can benefit both consumer and enterprise.

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