Ericsson geared to play key role in acceleration of digitalisation across ME region
The pace of digitalisation has been steadily accelerating across the Middle East region, with governments championing the smart city vision by investing in various technologies such as 5G, IoT, and automation. It is within this ecosystem that Ericsson sees an opportunity to share its expertise and vision of how technology will play a key role in making our future safer, more sustainable, and better connected.
Speaking to Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview, following the company's participation at Gitex Global 2021, Chafic Traboulsi, Vice President and Head of Networks at Ericsson Middle East & Africa, said that digitalisation is "top of mind" for many governments in the region, especially the UAE, which has emerged as one of the leading markets in the region in the smart city vision.
"Digitalisation is on the agenda of every country in the Middle East, and this is evident when you look at the various initiatives that are being launched to support it by governments such as the UAE," he said. "It is also a priority for the companies that are operating within these territories. There is a real exploration around various processes in various sectors about how technology such as 5G, automation, and IoT can be utilised to digitalise the process and make it less manual."
Looking back on Ericsson's participation at Gitex Global this year, Traboulsi said: "Gitex is special for us this year, because it was a comeback for us, and a very successful one. The event was an amazing opportunity for us to meet with our customers from all over the region and we used the platform to push our vision for 5G in the region, mainly the B2B application side."
He revealed that the company had discussed several aspects of smart cities such as how 5G can be used to make ports more connected. "We even discussed how we can use 5G to enhance the experience of mega sports experiences happening in the UAE. We see the volume of traffic that is generated by 5G users increasing quite drastically all over the Middle East where 5G has been adopted. In some networks, I would say that over 20 per cent of the traffic is now coming from 5G."
While he sees "absolutely no issue" with 5G adoption among consumers, the real challenge remains around the B2B model. A lot of work has to be done, to understand how 5G can be made viable in the best way."
Studies by Ericsson in the Middle East and North Africa region have found that around 32 per cent of mobile subscriptions were for 4G at the end of 2020. Service providers in the GCC were among the first in the world to launch 5G, with commercial services available in most of the member states by 2019. The GCC region is forecast to have a 5G subscriptions penetration of 73 per cent by the end of 2026, making it the region with the second-highest 5G penetration at that time."
Regarding fears about job losses as a result of more technology such as automation being utilized across the region, Traboulsi said that companies and business professionals should look at the situation as a "transformation of the workforce."
"I don't think people should be afraid of losing their jobs, because it is a transformation of the jobs that will happen," he explained. "This is not something new and we have seen it many times before. More jobs are being created as a result of these new technologies, and we will have more people working in 'future looking fields' such as Artificial Intelligence."
Looking ahead at key issues that the company is keen to tackle, Traboulsi pointed to climate change and sustainability. "For us, climate change is one of the most important subjects and one of the most impactful that we are facing in this century; we believe that telecom is one of the key industries that will tackle this problem and as a sector we have the potential to help reduce carbon emissions by 15% by 2030. At Ericsson, our climate targets are aligned with the Paris Agreement, 1.5-degree ambition, and we work with our industry to reduce our carbon footprint."
A key takeaway for many companies during the Covid-19 lockdown was how, as a result of video conferencing and remote working solutions, there was significantly less travel that was done for the purpose of work. "We are taking steps to augmenting this trend, and maintaining it beyond Covid-19. For us, the key is to see a quick uptake on new technologies that are more efficient."
However, this uptake should not come in tandem with increasing energy consumption, he stressed. Ericsson estimates the annual global energy cost for running mobile networks to be about $25 billion. From both cost and carbon footprint perspectives, energy is one of the industry's biggest challenges. If 5G is deployed in the same way as previous generations in order to meet increasing traffic demands, then energy consumption in mobile networks will increase dramatically. This is unsustainable in terms of cost as well as environmental impact.
Ericsson’s latest report, 'Breaking the energy curve', highlights a unique network-level approach that enables an exponential growth of data traffic without increasing energy consumption. "We want to see new technology come in, but that it will reverse the curve of energy consumption. At the end of the day, it is important that our products that we are putting out there, should break the energy curve so that you can get more traffic while using less power," Traboulsi said.
"Anything that would help us, and society at large be more sustainable is what I want to see," he added. "Technologies that help us reduce our water consumption, energy consumption, as well as better food and waste management are what I hope to see as the target of large-scale digitalization programmes by companies."