Kathy Gibson is at AfricaCom 2019 in Cape Town – For Africa to take part in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), it’s vital that the continent is connected – and that it is connected in a smart way.

“If you want to drive the digital economy, you need to be aware of the technologies that we going to changes our lives,” says Paul Scanlan, chief technology officer of the Carrier Business Group at Huawei Technologies.

Technologies and the underlying ICT infrastructure on its own is not going to achieve much without talent, funding and regulation, he adds.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is often seen as a mass job destroyer. “But in each industrial revolution technology does displace jobs, but it creates new ones,” he says.

“AI is not about a robot taking your job, or a Terminator. It is all about learning. If you want robots, you need data, and if you want data you need to connect.”

AI will modernise industries, Scanlan stresses. It will start with efficiency improvement, then move to expertise transfer; and finally to multi-domain intelligence.

“We want to drive the digital economy in Africa, so we need a platform, AI and an ecosystem.”

This ecosystem is going to be driven by 5G, he adds.

“It is faster and has capacity to the telecoms companies can become enablers. Industries like health and education can be transformed.

“It is an opportunity to transform – and the platform for transformation.”

Fixed wireless access (FWA) is the first 5G use case for mobile operators. 5G technology means that wireless connectivity can be extended to more people and industries than fibre on its own can do quickly and efficiently.

In addition, 5G will benefit industry GDP, Scanlan says.

This will be particularly noticeable in health and agriculture, where 5G could make a GDP contribution of 1%.

In fact, 5G ecosystems are set to change the way we interact with the world, he adds.

Scanlan cites the example of the Norwegian salmon-farming industry. Using 5G and sensors to examine the fish, jobs have been saved, wastage has been reduced, and individual fish are monitored for health.

Mining and tourism are other industries where 5G can has a massive impact, he says.

In Africa, he stresses that 5G cannot be rolled out without a robust 4G platform. “Bottom line is that you need that infrastructure. So Africa should continue to build out 4G.

“4G enables the digital economy – and 5G takes you from there into the future.”

In South Africa, we have an opportunity, Scanlan says. “How can we move everyone on to 4G? How can we get every user on to in inexpensive smartphone?”

Money is possibly the biggest challenge, he adds.

“There are challenges between these things that are business-driven and those things that are government-driven.

“If you can connect everyone, you can get the data, enable cloud and drive the economy.”

What’s required is some kind of cloud infrastructure and IoT, underpinned by regulatory policies, Scanlan says.

Governments are urged to make the following possible:

* Install fibre in all new dwellings and buildings;

* All spectrum to be inexpensive;

* Ducting of fibre during all new road construction;

* All power and lighting poles should be made available to support 4G/5G mobile equipment;

* Guarantee right of way and rapid site approval;

* Zero import duty on telecoms infrastructure and terminals;

* Issue mobile financial services licence and interconnect into the central banking platform;

* Deploy NB-IoT to encourage one ecosystem and to standardise interoperable things;

* Incentivise migration of 2G/3G to 4G/5G, plus M2M and NB-IoT devices.

“There is a great opportunity in Africa,” Scanlan adds. “This continent will leapfrog the rest of the world. But you have to be ambitious.

“If you want to accelerate this thing called Digital Africa, you need to do three things,” he concludes.

“Start thinking now about an ecosystem – they don’t happen overnight. Then, infrastructure is vital; and you need effective policies to drive these.”