As the benefits of the digital economy become apparent in countries around the world, the issue of digital inclusion has never been more paramount – particularly in Africa, which is brimming with digital potential that can be fully realized with the right amount of innovation and cooperation.
That was the message from Daisy Zhu, Marketing VP for Overseas Carrier Accounts at Huawei. Speaking at MWC Kigali 2023, Zhu outlined Huawei’s innovations that can accelerate Africa's digitalization process and help people in Africa benefit from digital technologies.
Digitalization has already been proven to boost economic growth. Research has shown that digital economy growth is 2.5x higher than traditional economy growth. In developing countries, every US$1 increase in ICT spending per capita translates into $3.5 in average GDP growth.
Digitalization also empowers people and changes lives. Zhu pointed to China’s own experience, where the digital economy has boosted GDP growth and helped China reduce poverty. The digital economy can do the same for African countries.
What’s missing is sufficient connectivity. Around 60% people in Africa (over 800 million people) still don’t have internet access, mainly because broadband connectivity is either too expensive or non-existent, particularly in rural areas with sizable populations. “As such, connectivity remains the cornerstone of digital inclusion,” said Zhu.
Getting mobile broadband connectivity to underserved and unserved areas has always been a challenge for mobile operators, especially in terms of backhaul and energy. To that end, she said, Huawei has developed several innovations for base station equipment specifically for rural deployments.
For example, its RuralStar Pro solution integrates a baseband unit (BBU), a remote radio unit (RRU), and a relay device into a single module that can be deployed by anyone in a village and remotely configured by an engineer. It’s also very power-efficient, using less than 120W. Then there’s the RuralLink solution, which leverages microwave fronthaul technology that enables rural sites to share the baseband resources of existing base stations, rather than deploying independent BBUs. Such rural solutions are designed to make wireless network deployment simpler, lower TCO. The integrated transmission, power supply, and wireless base station solutions help operators to recover rural investments in less than 2 years.
That said, Zhu pointed out that network connectivity is just the starting point in the push for digital inclusion – you also need digital platforms.
For example, operators can utilise an innovative digital intelligence platform such as Huawei’s CWR (Collaboration Workspace Realization) to identify which areas need to be covered and conduct precise marketing channels to effectively promote their internet and digital services, as well as affordable entry-level devices to access them.
Operators also need a digital service platform that can leverage connectivity to offer useful digital services, as is occurring in the Fintech sector, for example. “Fintech is booming in Africa,” said Daisy Zhu. "In the past two years, the number of financial technology start-ups in Africa has exceeded 5,000." Extend connectivity from cities to remote areas, allowing more people to use financial services, change payment methods, and gain access to digital life.
Meanwhile, Zhu reminded operators that when it comes to enabling digital inclusion, there’s far more to it than technology. Another key factor is the ICT skillsets of the very people you aim to include. Put simply, not everyone knows how to use a search engine effectively. A survey from Research ICT Africa found that for many people, a significant barrier to internet usage is that even if they have access to broadband and can afford it, they don’t have the skills to make use of it – at least not to the level expected in the digital economy.
This means operators vendors, governments, local communities and other industries should work together to raise awareness of digital skills and provide necessary assistance. During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, Huawei provided terminal and distance education technology training for digital learning and education teacher skills training in Senegal.
Many women lack the required level of digital literacy, especially in rural areas where more than half of Ghana’s population does not have access to any form of ICT. Therefore, Huawei has also joined Ghana’s “Girls-In-ICT” project, which aims to expand digital literacy and support women to benefit equally from digitalization. By 2022, the program had trained more than 5,000 girls across five regions.
The success of these projects reveals the true potential of the digital economy in Africa. The digital economy will transform Africa across so many sectors, from healthcare, food supply chains and living spaces to intelligent cities, transportation and enterprises. And the roadmap is already in place – the African Union’s digital transformation strategy envisions an “integrated and inclusive digital society and economy in Africa” by 2030.
Achieving that vision will require stakeholders from all sectors to work and innovate together, said Zhu. “We believe that innovation and cooperation will accelerate Africa's digitalization process, unleash Africa's digital potential, bring a better life and higher industrial efficiency to its people, and lead Africa to a smart society.”