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Q&A: Is Africa on the brink of a networked society?

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Ericsson held a media briefing today 12 October 2011, to discuss  key findings in the ‘global economic impact of increased broadband speeds’ research report.

with Aingharan Kanagaratnam, Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa Head of Practice: Mobile Broadband (image source: Ericsson)

Mobile data traffic continues to grow, doubling from the second quarter of 2010 to the second quarter of 2011. This is according to findings of a new report released by Ericsson.

According to Ericsson, online video accounts for the largest percentage of data traffic; about 10% of smartphone users, higher than e-mail and web browsing.

ITNewsAfrica conducted an interview with Aingharan Kanagaratnam, Ericsson’s sub-Saharan Africa Head of Practice: Mobile Broadband, to find out what progress has been made in broadening access to broadband in Africa.

What is the socio-economic impact of broadband in Africa?

We’ve started noticing the impact of the investment in mobile networks, in particular mobile broadband, on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) across the continent. We noticed an effect where every dollar put into mobile technology in the different countries; we see probably $1.7 type of return on that investment. That is in part due to the building up of infrastructure, and increasing productivity and education.

As the rate of broadband adoption increases, especially in emerging markets we witness a 70% type of increase in productivity to even closer to 100% type of return on that investment.

What were some of the key findings in the latest global economic impact of broadband study?

One key aspect is the return on investment (ROI) in developing broadband infrastructure.  It is by creating the network that we see the multiplication effect. The network society is creating the enabling infrastructure for business, personal and societal needs to really thrive.

What are the main infrastructure challenges facing Africa?

One key aspect that stands out in Africa is the lack of fixed line infrastructure, be it fibre or copper. We’ve seen a revolution brought about by mobile communications in the region, where we had 5% penetration of communications to now close to 50% penetration.

The first access to the Internet will be through a mobile device for a majority of Africa’s population. That is what we need to focus on building out; and the services that will utilise that are already being developed in partnership with government enterprises.

What role is Ericsson playing in improving broadband penetration?

Ericsson has been very prominent in Africa, by helping to build up the infrastructure for mobile voice. We’re now seeing the build-up of mobile data on top of the available infrastructure.

We’re working with the operators we helped launch the services in different countrie. We’re also working with other partners such as government, in particular to identify the needs that can be supported and ported to mobile networks more efficiently, not just mobile networks but the total infrastructure – both mobile and fixed.  We also see a need for fixed investments as well. Those are some of the key examples.

What are the key strengths of a mobile network?

The one key strength is we’re reaching close to 100% of global penetration and that has resulted in enormous strength and scale. The devices that are able to attach to the network are falling in price continuously, which makes it more affordable for everyone to have such a device and connect to the network.

The coverage that has been built out by having to provide services to the entire world population means the service is available even in the most remote parts of the African continent.

The accessibility and availability of these services is a key strength.

What was the recent study in Soweto (South Africa’s biggest township) all about?

We’re interested in finding out how to prepare the next step of data communications over the mobile network. The study was to understand what the trends are and what exactly is available out there in the eco-system.  We feel smartphones are really on an increase and also machine to machine communication.

Why is Ericsson focused on providing connectivity in remote areas across Africa?

The introduction of mobile commerce in Africa is a key factor, for example. Mobile commerce is starting to be a form of remittance.  By providing access into the technology, you see local needs being satisfied, which can really uplift everyone.

How big is Ericsson’s footprint in Africa?

We’re working in about 43 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. In total across Africa we have a a presence in nearly every single country.

Bontle Moeng – ITNewsAfrica Online Editor

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