With growing interconnectivity across all human activities, it has been projected that internet connections in Nigeria and the world at large has the potential to create additional value to the global economy between 2013-2022. According to Paolo Campoli, Head, Middle East & Africa Global Service Provider Sales, Cisco, the African market is unique in terms of the speed at which it is developing, while fifty-two percent of the devices that will be termed Internet of Everything (IoT), are actually in Africa, ADEDEJI FAKOREDE was there.
RECENTLY, a partnership between Cisco and Ericsson was announced. Can you shed more light on what the partnership is about?
Ericsson is a large global company working very much in the service provider space, and Cisco, as you are aware, works across the service provider as well as the enterprise sector. Basically, what we are looking to do is provide a joint thought-leadership, end-to-end capability to our customers by giving them real end-to-end support service, including hardware and support services. We are working together on 5G evolution. So, there is a lot of benefits to our customers while bringing together two of the world’s big players in a partnership where we will work together to move the business forward.
Thus far, are there some challenges you have encountered in the adoption of such technologies like 5G in Africa?
The African market is unique in terms of the speed at which it is developing; we have the fastest growing mobile market place in the world in Africa. Fifty-two percent of the devices that we will term IoT are actually here in Africa today. Africa is leading the way and that fast pace of development has the potential to create some challenges because as we skip levels of evolution, there is a challenge to everybody to move forward thus creating security issues, lack of skills in the market place and everyone struggling to keep up with the space of change. At Cisco, we have got new things happening around connectivity, such as fibre, satellite, sub-marine cable but the market is driving this incredible pace of change and it is really a case of making sure that the skills are there to ensure that things are done properly. Skills and speed are great but skill and speed involves strategy or it could be a potential disaster.
Cisco has been a part of this annual event for many years now, what has the company achieved thus far from participating?
There is an increased level of pragmatism in conferences like this. Last year, there were a number of discussions on technology enablers. It was the first edition, last year where software, networking, IoT and digitisations were discussed in plenary sessions. The early discussions we had today and probably what we will be discussing in another session is how to monetise those technologies. The other things we see is the telecom businesses requiring massive scale. There is much more focus on creating things that have competitive cost base rather than just technology and alliances that are allowed to scale up in terms of cost, reach the market and speak to innovation.
Recently Cisco launched the Cisco connected roadway solutions that helps with traffic congestion in Dubai. Is Cisco looking at doing same in Nigeria?
The technology brings a certain amount of capability but it is what you do with the data that actually control things around it. Understanding the people, when the traffic flow is at its peak and changing the traffic light is a simple thing to do. Changing the traffic flow accordingly is important and you can change when the busses are going to run and if there is an accident, change their routes even though there are not very many routes from Victoria Island to the airport, but we believe that bringing a certain intelligence to how people move around, how you find parking spots, where is the availability of parking, giving people the information of how long it is going to take to get from point A to point B improves peoples’ lives. So it is not as straight forward as it may seem. The data about people’s traffic flow is really important. Maybe, some companies will want to change the start and end day of their working days to reduce traffic flows. There are lots of things that could fall into that.
Are there any new innovations specifically for West Africa, particularly Nigeria?
What we are trying to do is to take the overall thinking of where the IoE is going and tailor that into specific areas like education, for example. We would tailor our overall education capability for the requirements and the different types of connectivity in the more remote populations that are in existence. We are looking to take best of IoT and tailor it for the African market. Another thing is that Cisco is looking to build this next generation engagement module with service providers, offering them the best of technology but then work with the local companies to tailor that to the market place. That is a big change from when we previously would have just a simple box shipped with standard software. We are looking at how we can tailor those solutions to fit with the local market place.
Cisco recently announced its financials. What is your growth expectation for 2016 and any plans of making new investments in Nigeria?
In terms of investment in Africa, the answer is yes. We are investing in terms of four major pillars. One is skill development where we have an overall business architecture initiative called Country Development Agenda, which is based on these four pillars. One is enhancing skill set, educating people to become digital citizens of IoE. The second pillar has to do with creating a community of developers of eco-system partners basically allowed to create value on this new set of technology. The third one is to create a highly customised set of go-to market channels that basically allows you to have a rapid deployment of innovation and technology very much tailored by each country, and the forth element of this architecture is of course the technology foundation layer.
In terms of the priority you just mentioned, what position is Nigeria?
If you look at our investment set of priorities, Nigeria is among the top five countries in Africa. I would say it is in position one or two depending on whether we look at the Telco business specifically or the entire business that Cisco organises with public sector enterprises and small medium business.
Cisco has been big on IoE. A report recently released by Cisco predicted that over 50 billion devices will be connected by 2020. What is Cisco doing with IoE with regards to giving it an African touch, especially since the connectivity of these devices engenders a lot of generation of data that need to be stored. Is Cisco looking into storage space or maybe venturing into cloud technology to aid the storage of data more securely.
What are we doing in the cloud business?
First of all we are in the business of analytics; so we are allowed to run analytics as a major service for IoE, IoT providers. There is a lot of demand to localise these data in countries, not transfer them across borders for data sovereignty. We enable big service providers to create local clouds where those data can be stored, secured, respecting the countries authority regime and requirement. The other element we are bringing to IoT, IoE is security architecture. Having everything addressable from sensors to street lights, these points can be subject to attack; so having a security architecture that allows you to understand what is going on, prevent and also contain security attack is fundamental when you move from a classical connectivity to IoT, IoE.
What are some of the services Cisco provides that SMEs can afford?
Meraki is an example. A Small Medium Enterprise today that has a mobile handset and the connectivity like DSL or 3G connectivity wants to start having a shared workplace to work with their employees when they are remote from the office or work with their business partners. They want to create a market place over a secure connection. What they are asking for is an affordable solution for connectivity Wi-Fi security in real time communication. Quite often, SMEs don’t have an IT manager. They have an owner and sellers, developers and administrative people; they don’t necessarily have an IT department. So, they need something easy to install, something that can be plugged into any broadband connection or IT connection and be managed from the cloud. The third thing they request for is the ability to have a portal where they understand their security profile and quality of service. Now with Meraki, we have exactly that model-low cost entry price point, Wi-Fi access points, routers fully managed with provision from the cloud, plug-and-play for the SMEs. It is now affordable for an SME to create a virtual office or a small start-up office.