Ericsson plans to set up innovation hubs across the Middle East and Africa region.
Based on the Ericsson Garage concept, started in Sweden and now spread all over the world, the centres seek to encourage collaboration in an ecosystem that brings together operators, start-up companies, as well as university students who can test out their ideas.
The first hub will open this year and eventually encompass a network of such facilities across the region, said Rafiah Ibrahim, president of Ericsson Middle East and Africa region.
The announcement was part of a packed agenda for Ericsson at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.
Ericsson used MWC to showcase its extensive 5G platform. Last month Ericsson launched its 5G platform, allowing operators to launch 5G services at the end of this year. “MWC was an opportunity to show our customers-the telcos-on the values that we bring and the growth we can empower with what they already have in place today,” said Ibrahim.
The Ericsson 5G portfolio includes radios, the core (which includes digital services) and managed services, explained Ibrahim. Another pillar is an emergent business model brought on by IoT whose use cases are only emerging, she added.
Ericsson has signed several MoUs on 5G since it launched its 5G strategy; at MWC, the company added Zain Group to the growing list. “We are building for the future with our customers. For those already on 4G, we will turn it into software-enabled for them to move to 5G so that whatever they have in place is not wasted,” explained Ibrahim.
5G and IoT are now part of the same conversation as Börje Ekholm, CEO of Ericsson observed at MWC.
Use cases in IoT, whether countries are on 3G, 4G or 5G, are crucial for operators in the region because they are not growing their revenues. “Everyone is now thinking about a different type of economy as countries seek to transition from resource-based economies to knowledge-based economies,” said Ibrahim. “As a company, we need to think about what makes sense for the full set of our customers.”
“Use cases will only develop in collaborative ecosystems that includes vendors like us who understand the technology, the service providers who know what their customers want, but also start-ups that are cropping all over the region,” Ibrahim added.
This is just the beginning, said Ibrahim, and as operators start to see the business models, they will then be able to understand where they can invest in the network for 5G.
Ibrahim’s coverage area is as varied as it is wide. Whether 5G is currently relevant in all the markets is a point of major discussions in the region. Countries in the GCC such as UAE and Saudi are ready to move on to 5G, and discussions there are on use cases. Other countries in the larger Middle East and Africa are further behind, Ibrahim noted.
Ibrahim was a keynote speaker for Smart Africa, an initiative that seeks to accelerate socio-economic development through ICT. Ibrahim discussed accelerating inclusion, with emphasis on financial, social, and education.
In Africa, Ericsson counts its customers among the major operators such as MTN, Airtel Bharti, Orange and others. Mobile subscriptions in Africa stands at 700 million with about 6% annual growth. In the next five years, this figure will rise to one billion across the continent. “In Africa, the focus is on ‘sweating the assets’, but also educating operators now on 4G how they can evolve when the time comes for them to move to 5G,” said Ibrahim.
In Iraq, Ericsson signed a deal with Zain Iraq to boost the network with Virtual Evolved Packet Core (vEPC). The network is struggling to cope with large amounts of data generated as the country emerges from conflict. vEPC enables a lot of data to be processed before it sent to the network and then to the recipient.
The entire world is in the midst of a major technological shift that is happening so fast, the industry is struggling to keep up, Ibrahim noted. “As technology influencers, Ericsson needs to be ready for this rapid change. However, we must not leave other customers who are not ready to take that step but keep them focused in whatever assets they have and make sure they can utilise their assets to the maximum,” Ibrahim concluded.