Nigeria has potential to become a connected country, says Li

Frank Li, Managing Director, Huawei Nigeria

Frank Li, Managing Director, Huawei Nigeria

Frank Li is the Managing Director, Huawei Nigeria. In this interview with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, Li spoke on how the country can become better connected, among other germane industry issues.

Huawei is leading a global move for a better-connected world. Why do you think Huawei is pursuing this objective?
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to reach out to our various stakeholders. As you know, we are living in an exciting age of intelligence, where progress moves at the speed of imagination. For instance, as journalists going for an interview, you use to come with notepads and pens; but now you come with mobile devices or only the phones. Still, you’re achieving the objective, even in a more effective way.

Another example is, we thought we have to come to office before we could start to work; but now you can work from anywhere, anytime using any device. Either through Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G or any technology accessing the network. As long as you are connected, you can start your work.

People find that once everything is connected, you have more opportunity to access information freely than before. Connections are breaking down the barriers and boundaries between technologies, countries, businesses and industries.

We have estimated that by 2025 there will be more than 100 billion connections worldwide. What does this mean? This means that we are in this together; when the commercial society, information and people and even things are connected, more value will be created; more business models will be created. Among these 100 billion connections, 55 per cent will come from business side. Such as smart manufacturing or smart cities, like we are now planning in Nigeria.

The other 45 per cent will come from people like us, the consumer side. For example, the smart wearable things like watches, AR (Augmented Reality), VR (Virtual Reality) and also the IoTs (Internet of Things) and Internet of Vehicles (IoVs) etc. These connections will bring more value and bring more business opportunities. A new ecosystem will be established and through this ecosystem, we can really develop a lot and contribute our own values and create job opportunities for the society and of course, we can push GDP growth and enrich people’s lives.

That’s why at Huawei, we strive to build a Better Connected World. In this world, people and people, people and things, and things and things will all be connected, which will open up enormous business opportunities and deliver amazing experiences for us all.

Do you think a country like Nigeria can actually benefit directly from this kind of focus that Huawei has?
Well, I will say yes. Nigeria can benefit from a better connected world, or shall we call it a better connected Nigeria. I saw the statistics that only less than six per cent of the people in sub-saharan areas can receive higher education, sometimes because of their financial situation and some because the classrooms are far away or they don’t have the access to the information. While in China, the data is about 26 per cent. So, when I say Nigeria can benefit, let’s take e-education for instance, in the rural areas, if you want to get the kids educated, you have to send the teachers, build classrooms, among others. But With the increase in connectivity by robust fiber network coverage and the development of alternative electric power in the region, the potential of ICT applications in the education sector will be unleashed to a much greater extent. Online courses, including open educational resources (OER), will shatter the limits of time and space. Students can freely choose the time and venue for learning, which greatly expands learning channels and reduces the cost of education by more than 50 per cent. The kids can get connected through the cloud and have access to the best teachers though online courses. These can be stored in the cloud, in data centres.

We believe in this for the future because we have what we call the three cloud approach; one is experience cloud. Before, it would take a lot of efforts, to send some of our clients to China or to Europe, to experience the best applications in most of the developed technology and the chances are rare, the seats are limited. But since we have this experience cloud, like the one we have here, we don’t need to go to China or Europe; we just have our clients in Lagos and they can experience our best solutions worldwide. They can keep themselves updated with the latest technologies right here.

This is the way that we can have the knowledge transfer and can change the way people access the knowledge. Because of these connections this knowledge is well preserved and well spread and well developed for our clients here. This can be easily duplicated and made available in other cities in Nigeria. And this is the benefit and value that we bring to the society.

In the midst of Nigeria’s infrastructure problems, how do you think Huawei can assist the country to be part of this connected world that you have in mind?
In 2014, Huawei released its Global Connectivity Index or GCI which is the first quantitative assessment that comprehensively and objectively evaluates connectivity from both national and industrial perspectives. The surveyed countries account for around 78 per cent of the global GDP and cover around 68 per cent of the global population, which is really influential and nigeria is among the surveyed countries.

According to the newly released version of GCI White Paper in 2016, we do see Nigeria has really made a solid progress to improve the connectivity. I think the credit goes to National Broadband projects like Galaxy Backbone and 4G implementation of all major carriers in the country, which really uplift Nigeria’s ICT infrastructure to a new level. But still, we do see some obstacles; we do see some phenomenon we cannot ignore. For example, we have a very interesting key finding that the middle class in Nigeria is about 43 million people. Their average income is the same as South Korea. The South Korean population is about 50 million. So there are quite large requirements and demand from the consumers in Nigeria. For instance, I’m in the middle class, I want to watch high definition HD Video on my mobile, but I cannot, not because I cannot afford it but because of the limitation of speed. That is the gap that we still see.

So, Huawei has a very important role to play in this industry in this country; we want to contribute our value to accelerate or upgrade the industry. For example, cooperating with the Federal Government, we have successfully built the Galaxy Backbone national data centre and national backbone, which really can enable the government to provide more ICT services to the citizens, institutions and companies. And also working with our various operator partners in Nigeria, we are building a new ecosystem. We want to spread the deployment of fibre optics and also upgrade mobile internet to 4G level, which will really accelerate the speed to help develop this industry.

But our effort is not enough, I have to say. We would like to also work with the government to develop some policies that would help the industry because it is not enough to leave everything to the private sector. For example, we have worked closely with the Ministry of Communications where we have a MoU about developing the ICT industry in Nigeria, which is really particular about the next two to five years. We have to present our open ROADS towards a better connected Nigeria. What does ROADS mean? R means Real time; O means On-demand; A means All-online, D means Do-it-yourself (DIY) and S means Social. These represent the new requirement of the younger generation of the consumer market. And we want to present our values to the government and to get the government to be convinced and believe that this is the right choice. For example, in April when President Muhammadu Buhari visited Beijing, we had the honour to meet the President in Beijing and explained Huawei values and really, the President was interested in everything we said because in developing ICT, we are helping to speed up the growth of Nigeria’s GDP and creating new jobs. So, by this, we are working with local partners and also working with the government and we are deploying all our resources towards developing the ICT industry in Nigeria.

In terms of infrastructure, there is an aspect which Huawei has capacity, which is electricity. How can Huawei help Nigeria in terms of electricity?
Well, there is a long story but I will cut it short. Traditionally, there are some electricity power companies that are having some efficiency issue; they have landlords’ issues, like some people who don’t want to pay or try to tamper. So Huawei is offering them a better connected smart grid solution, we call it AMI (Advanced Metering Infrastructure) solution. We are using our accuracy chips inside, and of course, we are working with the local industry. We are in collaboration with local factories and partners, while Huawei just integrate our chips inside. In Ikeja our smart meter solutions are being deployed and it has helped them to stop 31 per cent of line loss problems and also, efficiency has been significantly improved and this improved profitability. So, with that, we are helping the industry to become healthier. We also changed the people’s habit of consuming electricity, to save and consume power as need with no more waste.

By the way, I can give you a latest example, we are not only helping this industry, I think in the future, by introducing ICT solutions just as I said of a better connected Nigeria, we can solve significant social problems just with the smart grid. For example, in some countries using our smart grids, we help the police to see some drug issues. Why? Because drug problem, but there is privacy issue; and in some countries you cannot enter some people’s houses because of privacy.

There are some people that grow weeds, which is illegal and it’s very difficult for the police to detect, but through our smart metering solutions they can detect that working with the electricity companies. This is because electricity for growing weeds will be different from the common lighting for house. So, significantly, with proper authorization by the government, it can scan and they can collect the big data through the data centre. They can log very accurately and detect some families that are engaging in suspicious activities and this helps the police to fight suspicious elements and fight crime. This is something that in the future, in a better connect world, will happen; not only really to make the industry itself become healthier, but really to solve some social issues.

Becoming a connected country requires massive investments; looking at Nigeria, what level of investment do we need to get to such level?
In terms of investment, it is very difficult to name a figure, but it will all depend on where we stand in the digital economy curve. For example, there are some start-ups, let’s say in some rural areas, their need is just to have access, that may be the fundamental thing just to have access to the internet, for example broadband. They don’t even have access. But in another example, doctors will care more about improving the speed and the quality of access, the coverage. And for some top runners, for example in Lagos, where they already have a very fast internet through fibre, 4G, they already have the access; they they’ll focus more on the value created through the ICT industry. So, it’s very difficult to say a figure but it depends on where you stand on the curve.

I will take China for example; in 2015, China invested about $450 billion into the ICT industry and from that, 41 per cent went to IT hardware and 51 per cent went to telecom business, which we call communications infrastructure. And also significantly, eight per cent went to software and services. This is what happened in China; so if you see all the European countries or most of the developed countries’ ICT industry, usually, they spend like up to seven per cent of their total GDP on ICT part; which is really helping to boost their GDP growth. So, for Nigeria, I will say the government really has a lot to do, for example, if they can spend six to eight per cent of the GDP on ICT just to catch up to reduce the gap between the country and developed countries, this will be a safe approach. This will also really help to boost the GDP and of course help the ICT industry to grow faster.

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