How Ericsson uses Artificial Intelligence to simplify operations and speed up services

We often hear the word Artificial Intelligence(AI), but also for many who are not very familiar with the technology they rarely understand it while it is important to understand its meaning and its importance in the economic and technological development in today’s world. Todd Ashton, Head of Ericsson South and East Africa is telling us more more about AI and below are excerpts of the Interview : 

Q1. What is AI for Ericsson? 

As a multinational networking and telecommunications company, Artificial Intelligence is a vital skill domain and technology for creating business value in terms of improved performance, higher efficiency, enhanced customer experience as well as creating new business models and use cases for 5G, IoT and enterprises across Africa.

With 5G now a commercial reality, the ability to effectively collect, analyze and autonomously act on real-time data will be an accelerator towards making the digital economy a reality and it will help us create new jobs focusing on more advanced skill sets.

From Ericsson’s perspective and our own implementation of the technology, AI adoption is essential to efficient network management and operations. AI and automation will help address the complexity of 5G networks, drive efficiencies and improve customer experience as well as open new revenue streams for communications service providers (CSPs).

Q2. Why AI is important in our lives?

From both an economic and consumer perspective, AI will revolutionize our lives. In business, across industries, AI is being used in all manner of ways to improve productivity, increase operational efficiencies, and deliver outstanding customer experience.

From a consumer perspective, media streaming platforms such as Spotify and Netflix demonstrate AI in action, as the algorithms analyse user behaviour, and that of people with similar behaviour, to recommend new TV shows, films, and music. But these examples solve simple use cases with simple AI algorithms.

What AI is doing in more complex industries, with more complex challenges is solving and providing use cases where much more economic value is at stake. For example, in the communications sector, connecting everyone, connecting everything, everywhere, at any time, on demand, is an enormously complex task, with equally complex infrastructure and technology. AI helps to solve the challenges along the way, but it doesn’t do so with one broad, general brush.

At Ericsson, we have been working with AI for more than a decade and take a different approach from many others. We develop AI to solve the right problems: the right problems for our customers, and not problems outside of those. We are embedding AI deeply throughout our portfolio and services specific to use cases that can scale to all our customers.

Q3. What projections for the five coming years that one can expect in the use of AI in Rwanda and East Africa?

Digital transformation and innovation are essential solutions to propel Africa towards the future. Connectivity will power Africa’s digital future and in achieving a positive impact on people’s lives. However, smarter, AI fuelled networks will accelerate Africa’s digital agenda, and drive the progress and prospects of 5G in Africa. We see AI as a way to address some of the logistical challenges faced in our business which have been made more obvious during the ongoing crisis related to COVID-19. Ultimately, AI and automation will inevitably create value across the lifecycle of network operations in East Africa.

The unprecedented events of 2020 have brought into focus the critical role that digital infrastructure plays in the functioning of almost every aspect of contemporary society. Africa is home to over a billion people and the population is expected to grow in the coming years. It is also a continent with the most growing economies. ICT is essential for Africa’s development and adequate ICT service deployment and digital connectivity will play a crucial role in achieving economic sustainability in the continent.

The government of Rwanda’s National Artificial Intelligence Policy is a significant step in its aims to harness AI, digital and emerging technologies to support the country’s development goals including sustainable and inclusive growth, become an ICT and Innovation Hub, and position Rwanda as a leader on the African and global stage. We will continue to partner closely with the nation to help develop valuable use cases for AI across the nation in its vision for a sustainable economy.

 Q4: How Ericsson Company is contributing to the development of AI in Rwanda and in this region?

Rwanda’s Information Communications and Technology landscape has significantly evolved over the last few years. Ericsson’s role as a trusted advisor to Rwanda will see the deployment of services such as e-health, e-education, e-government, smart utilities and cybersecurity protection, all propelled by AI to fully leverage the infrastructure investment and empower people to reach their full potential. Our vision of a Networked Society in Africa is being actualized through this and we are happy to be able to support Rwanda on this exciting journey.

Our long-term partnership with Rwanda has previously involved focusing on building capacity and skills in the country that could be handed over to the government along with selected private sector players. Based on the leading role that Rwanda plays in the Smart Africa Alliance, this collaboration will establish a public private partnership model that can benefit other members of the alliance.

Q.5 In the time of the pandemic, Ericsson has been on the forefront in responding to the needs of people in terms of access to speed communication.  What lesson one can get from the experience of the pandemic vis-a -vis speeding of information delivery?

If there’s one thing the pandemic has demonstrated, it’s the value of staying connected.  We see connectivity as a basic human right. The collaboration with telecommunications service providers was key to developing the connectivity solutions we are relying on more than ever today, and it will be key for enabling future innovation to bring us even closer together. ICT standardization efforts are at the heart of creating network solutions that can keep our society running, even under pressure. Safeguarding and strengthening our key digital infrastructures – as well as enabling the continuous development of the underlying technology – will also be crucial as Africa emerges from the crisis – and has the potential to propel Africa into a steep and sustainable growth cycle.

6. How far is Ericsson in deploying 5G Infrastructures in Africa? Can you tell us about the same case in East African Region?

Ericsson is progressing with 5G infrastructure in Africa. Ericsson 5G is now commercially live with MTN in South African cities as of July 2020. Additionally, Telma Madagascar has switched on its 5G commercial network powered by Ericsson. The 5G network is now live in multiple cities in Madagascar.

We are committed to evolving network infrastructure in East Africa, and to that end Airtel Africa agreed to expand its strategic partnership with Ericsson to enable 4G coverage in Kenya. With Ericsson’s Radio Access Network (RAN) and packet core products for 4G, Airtel subscribers will experience enhanced quality of voice and data.  Nearly all radio equipment we have been installing since mid-2016 is upgradeable to 5G, so when the business case makes sense and the regulators allow, we will be able to support our customers in launching 5G across the region.

The network modernization deal, signed in August 2020, is in line with the ‘Kenyan Digital Economy Blueprint Vision 2030’ which aims to provide robust connectivity in rural areas and facilitate e-commerce platforms.

We look forward to further agreements to enhance networks across East Africa.

7 Ericsson and Airtel have recently entered into partnership with Airtel Telecommunication. What fruits are you so far harvesting from the partnership and briefly let us know the components of the partnership?

The modernization deal with our long term partner Airtel will simplify and upgrade the existing network while futureproofing it for the anticipated and rapid expansion of mobile connectivity in the country.


What can we expect from the use of 5G networks? Jacques Kabandana, Ericsson Rwanda Country Manager responds

As time goes on, we continue to feel a change in the use of the Internet where the world in general is eyeing the use of 5G Internet which is expected to change a lot in human life.

TOP AFRICA NEWS interviewed Jacques Kabandana, CEO of Ericsson Rwanda, explaining some of what we would expect as a result of the 5G network.  

We have been hearing about 5G usage around the world for some time now, but in Rwanda we are not hearing about 5G usage. Is 5G already used in Rwanda? Can you explain to us about 5G usage in the context of Rwanda and Africa as well?

We believe that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is the catalyst for digital transformation, with mobile networks being the crucial ingredient in increasing Africa’s economic competitiveness in the global arena.

Digital transformation is taking place in almost every industry, disrupting and creating new business models. 5G is an enabler of this transformation. As highlighted in the November 2020 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report, distinct volumes of 5G subscriptions are expected from 2022, reaching 5 percent in 2026.

While there are parts of the continent on the cusp of 5G rollout, there remains other parts where 3G and 4G are still in infancy. The development of LTE and 5G digital infrastructure is an integral part of Africa’s growing economy and has proved to be an essential driver of an inclusive information society that integrates digitization in all critical aspects of life, such as education, transport, health, energy and even homeland security.

In Africa, we have already implemented an expanded platform to deliver more efficient network performance and improved network capabilities. This is enabling service providers to capture opportunities from digitization of industries and from emerging use cases while addressing the explosive traffic growth expected in 5G evolution.

  1. We are talking about 5G but there are also those who say that 4G has not helped them properly so it is possible that even 5G may not get customers due to the fact that even 4G has disappointed them. What do you say about that?

As digital infrastructure and transaction become increasingly impactful to the development of the African societies and economies, affordable broadband access will need to be extended to over a billion individuals to bridge the “digital divide” and enable them to reap the benefits of the digital economy.

Mobile broadband subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are predicted to increase according to Ericsson Mobility Report, reaching 76 percent of mobile subscriptions. Driving factors behind the growth of mobile broadband subscriptions include a young, growing population with increasing digital skills and more affordable smartphones.

Mobile broadband connectivity not only offers great potential to transform cities and industries, but it enables connectivity as a basic human right; fostering inclusion and making a positive, sustainable economic impact.

  1. A recent report by Ericsson shows that the number of Mobile data consumers will increase significantly. What opportunities do we have based on the increase in the number of Mobile phone users?

The November 2020 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report reveals that mobile data traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to grow by almost 6.5 times the current figures, with total traffic increasing from 0.87EB per month in 2020 to 5.6EB by 2026. Meanwhile, average traffic per smartphone is expected to reach 8.9GB over the forecast period.

As the demand for capacity and coverage of cellular networks continues to grow, service providers must invest in their networks to meet evolving consumer requirements. With our commitment to innovation and long history of engaging in Africa’s telecom industry, we at Ericsson are driven to deliver the next-generation technology solutions to Africa. These can enable sweeping changes to industrial production, allow seamless access to societal services and provide people with ways of living harmoniously with their environment.

  1. What do you think is the best way for a person to benefit from a 5G network?

Africa’s Digital agenda is a base for economic opportunities across all industry sectors, with the continent’s young population driving enormous opportunities in this digital era. Service providers in Africa are seizing the opportunity to evolve their role in the value chain and build powerful technological capabilities that can dramatically accelerate the digital transformation of companies across industries and geographies.

With networks of the future, the complexity of operating networks will go far beyond what any human can manage. To leverage the full benefits, investing in additional technologies such as cloud native, orchestration and automation is now business critical. 

Farmers across the continent are realizing how important digital technology, robotics, image recognition, sensors, precision farming, big data and analytics are to ensuring the future profitability of their industry, addressing sustainability issues, and improving resilience in the face of climate change.

Introduction of AI cognitive algorithms will enable networks to perceive current conditions – making it easier to plan, decide and act on those conditions to achieve better outcomes. Using our 4G and 5G technology with low latency alongside with the AI and Automation, we can enable farmers to use drones and self-guided tractors powered by GPS navigation systems to monitor crops.

Robotics can also be utilized various agriculture applications – helping to improve the food production lifecycle, boost efficiency and minimize waste.

  1. What is the role of Ericsson in Rwanda in helping the public to enjoy the benefits of using the Internet?

 Ericsson is well established in East Africa with offices in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. We operate in the Information and Communication System (ICT) sector together with our partners being the services providers such as MTN and Airtel. Our comprehensive portfolio ranges across Networks, Digital Services, Managed Services and Emerging Business.

In addition, Ericsson is committed to developing STEM leaders through digital transformation initiatives and events. We are fully aware of the challenges in Rwanda when it comes to capacity building in various sectors including STEM which is one of the objectives of the Rwanda National Employment Program (NEP) and we are working on addressing its key objectives. Since its establishment in 2009, Ericsson Rwanda has focused on recruiting and empowering local talents, we are proud to have more local than foreign resources in our workforce.

Developing strong local competence is a key pillar of the Ericsson strategy to realize industry 4.0. within an African context through Digital Transformation as we believe transformation is both driven by talent and technology.  Africa’s digital agenda is best built by African talent as they leverage automation to build smarter networks, addressing head-on the complexity to expand digital inclusivity.

  1. What advice would you give to today’s youth based on experience in the use of modern communication, especially the Internet?

Connectivity is a critical enabler of social and economic change. Its dynamism constantly offers us new ways to overcome both global and regional development challenges. If leveraged for good, the introduction of 5G and expansion of LTE networks across Africa can accelerate this process exponentially.

While there are parts of the continent trialing 5G services, majority of countries remain focusing on 3G and 4G as smartphone affordability improves year on year. The development of advanced wireless digital infrastructure is an integral part of Africa’s growing economy. Mobile broadband access has proved to be an essential driver of an inclusive information society that integrates digitization in all critical aspects of life, such as education, transport, health, energy and even homeland security. Never has this been more evident than during the current COVID 19 pandemic.

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