Interview: Nunzio Mirtillo

How has demand for smart devices evolved in emerging markets over the past five years?

NUNZIO MIRTILLO: According to our mobility report, there has been important growth in markets such as Africa, where smartphone subscriptions are forecast to grow by more than 200% between 2015 and 2021. There has been an increase in mobile subscriptions in all regions, but the underlying factor driving change is mobile broadband. One reason is that many consumers in developing markets first experience the internet on a smartphone, usually due to limited fixed-broadband access.

How can ICT spur development in emerging markets, and what can be done to facilitate this?

MIRTILLO: ICT remains a universal enabler and accelerator for much-needed local growth and development worldwide. ICT can represent a positive, transformative force when implemented in an innovative, responsible and cooperative way. It is clear that there is a need for an evolution in skills and education to match the increasingly digital economy. In this sense, Ericsson and the Ministry of Post and Information and Communication Technologies agreed to join forces to launch a technology mentoring programme for future skills in the field of ICT.

What potential do you see for increased e-government activity in emerging markets?

MIRTILLO: People are eager to try digital public services. Saving time by avoiding queues and being able to keep track of document flows are the key expected benefits. According to our research, nearly half of urban Maghreb wants to do away with time-consuming, paper-based filing systems and would welcome a government move to an online system. They believe that this would have a positive impact on the quality of customer service. However, consumers are also sceptical about security failings and the misuse of personal information when using these services. One-third of consumers feel that these services are complicated to use. These perceptions must change if people are to embrace e-governance and m-commerce on a large scale.

The appetite for e-government and m-commerce services is also likely to grow due to convenience and efficiency factors. The Maghreb looks set to develop into an interconnected society, where people’s ability to communicate and access information is not restricted by location, and the digitisation of public services and payment systems drives more inclusion, freeing up resources for leisure and professional productivity.

What are the principal challenges and opportunities with respect to the labour force and training?

MIRTILLO: The Algerian market is a full-potential market in ICT as confirmed in a 2014 World Bank report stating that Algeria could be the regional leader in the internet sector thanks to the tens of thousands of kilometres of major fibre-optic cable that now exist. When it comes to partnering labour force and training, Ericsson has joined forces with technical institutes for supervising future talents in 4G solutions and creating a laboratory equipped with Ericsson products dedicated to IP technologies and LTE.

How can the digital divide be bridged?

MIRTILLO: According to our research, access to ICT in many African countries is both inadequately and unevenly distributed. This is amplified by economic inequality between the different consumer segments in the market, and therefore access, use and knowledge of ICT in the region vary between individuals, households, businesses and geographical areas. The mobile phone, and more specifically the smartphone, has the potential to bridge this digital divide by providing universal access and connectivity to all citizens, regardless of location or economic status. Communication-related services, such as instant messaging and social networking, are also driving the need for “anywhere, anytime” connectivity.