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Companies across the world have been hit hard by the pandemic. The telecoms industry has been absolutely relentless in its efforts to ensure that their consumers, employees and customers are safe and have the means to stay connected.

With the majority of the world being confined to their homes, a huge burden has befallen telcos everywhere. Having to cater to such an immense spike in demand whilst also maintaining the health and safety values of their employees whilst simultaneously ensuring business continuity has proven to be quite the challenge. However, companies like Ericsson, who have been at the forefront of innovation in this region and beyond, took immediate measures to contain the spread of the virus within their organization. In fact, they were even the first to withdraw from the world’s largest information technology event, Mobile World Congress, in an effort to prioritize and safeguard the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees.

Telecom Review secured an interview with the president of Ericsson Middle East and Africa, Fadi Pharaon, to discuss the vendor’s experience throughout the pandemic.

How has Ericsson been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak?

Like many other businesses, we have also been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. With the health and safety of our employees as top priority, we are working with our customers to ensure that mobile networks remain a critical backbone for public services, businesses and people in the region.

During these times, our absolute highest priority remains the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees, our customers and our partners. Hence, we are taking every precautionary measure to minimize the impact on the company’s operations and to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
Now more than ever, mobile networks are considered a critical infrastructure and an essential part of any country’s communications backbone that enable people and businesses to stay connected, sustaining economies with health workers, public safety officials and critical businesses.  We also see that working from home will be the new normal.

This gives our industry a promising potential for growth and together with our customers, we are working together to innovate. One example of such predicted growth, we have re-visited our Mobility Report forecasts and we expect a higher demand when it comes to 5G in light of the acceleration of digitization. We forecast that by 2025, there will be 2.8 billion 5G subscriptions.
What measures or initiatives has Ericsson taken to tackle the challenges that have come from the pandemic? (e.g. regarding customers and own employees)

We have been early on monitoring the development of the coronavirus and its impact on a daily basis. Since the pandemic outbreak, we have created task forces on global, market and country levels to ensure we secure the health and safety of our employees and support and stay close to our customers. 

We have taken multiple precautionary measures to ensure the health and safety of our employees.  To mention a few, we implemented a work from home policy for our entire workforce globally and in the region. We quickly implemented IT policies to upgrade our internal networks and we allowed our employees to bring home their office furniture and equipment. We have also canceled all physical events participation until the end of the year. We have also followed the travel restrictions guidelines since the pandemic outbreak as per the instructions issued by the local authorities.

At the same time, we stay close to our customers to understand their needs, and we are doing everything possible to support them in maximizing their network capacity and performance. For that, we have created and implemented business continuity plans for all our customers. We are engaging them regularly through virtual meetings and webinars.
Our engineers and field staff, our front liners, are part of critical teams deployed during a crisis. Even when a country goes into lockdown, our engineers are still active in order to keep the networks up and running following the local authorities guidelines and permits.

With the drastic data growth and traffic pattern shift due to the lockdown, mobile network capacity is more strained than ever before. We see more market demand for solutions that cater for capacity management and efficient use of network assets either using software, hardware or spectrum efficiency solutions.

The pandemic seems to have fast-tracked the digital transformation of most industries. Could you provide us with a comment on this? Do you feel that this will have a lasting effect on all these industries?

This situation has demonstrated the need for digital ways of working. Hence, it has accelerated all companies’ plans for digital transformation enabling them to stay ahead of the curve and be better prepared for the future. Furthermore, we see more innovation happening to find new and creative solutions to ensure business continuity. Accelerating and implementing digital transformation has become a critical priority for any company to safeguard their employees as top priority while they continue to serve their customers.

Through end-to end-solutions, Ericsson is supporting the Middle East and Africa service providers as they accelerate their drive to digitalize businesses, industries and society. In fact, industry digitalization with 5G opens new opportunities for service providers to build and extend their businesses beyond connectivity as they can offer customized applications, integration services and even manage larger campus and IoT networks.

Ericsson’s report, 'The 5G for business compass’, indicates that operators can benefit from up to USD 700 billion market opportunity globally in 2030. According to our report on 5G business potential beyond mobile broadband, MEA service providers can benefit up to USD 46 billion by 2030.

Has COVID-19 presented gaps in the market that Ericsson plans to capitalize on? If so, what are they/how so?

We will continue to research and develop products and services that support and reach for the accessibility and affordability of communication infrastructure by offering services that drive sustainable economic growth and innovative solutions across areas such as education, financial services, health and humanitarian response.

According to a recent study by GSMA, Mobile Money is central to the mobile industry’s contribution to 15 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. At Ericsson, we are incredibly proud to see Ericsson’s Mobile Money services introduced by our customers in the region to address challenges faced by unbanked communities. Now with the COVID-19 situation, we saw a rise in the demand for cashless transactions. We will continue to reach out to more markets via our customers to expand our highly recognized Mobile Money solution.

Moreover, we are moving into a new space of connected machines, vehicles and wearables. From within these spaces, entire new enterprise and business models will emerge and deliver new value opportunities across manufacturing, transport, healthcare, energy and more. Together with our customers, we plan to continue our lead in capitalizing on these promising opportunities.

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