Interview: Kenneth Ashigbey

How can increased data penetration and consistent usage be encouraged?

KENNETH ASHIGBEY: One condition for telecoms licensing in Ghana is that coverage must be provided in all of the district capitals. The GSM Association tells us that 85% of Ghana has 3G signal coverage. The 15% without coverage are the extremely remote areas, where activity levels are low and the population density is sparse. This data tells us that much of the infrastructure to support increased penetration is already present. It is also important to note that the affordability of smartphones has been greatly increasing.

Spurred in part by low taxes, manufacturers are providing the market with much cheaper devices than has previously been the case. Once consumers have the devices and the network is available, we will be able to work on increasing data consumption. Telecoms firms offer some services for free or at a high discount to help increase the overall appetite for data. It is important to advocate for policymakers to create the demand in these areas. It is not always about simply pushing technology, but increasing awareness and education in rural areas is essential. Once consumption is guaranteed, the investment possibilities increase dramatically. Therefore, the effort to connect the population is an ongoing partnership between policymakers, regulators and the technology sector.

What role does mobile money play in expanding the technology environment?

ASHIGBEY: Mobile money has flourished beyond all previous expectations. Mobile phones in rural areas are not only used for making calls, they are the means by which one can receive money to buy medication, pay wages for small businesses, and so on. There are increasingly innovative ways that this technology is being used, from pay-as-you-go electricity via solar panels to creating pre-paid water programmes. Historically, investments in utilities such as these have not been sustainable, because when money was invested it was not recoverable. However, now leakage has been reduced. Mobile money has evolved from only providing ATM services to being a merchant payment system where cash is completely removed and money moves between mobile wallets. It will also have the ability to transfer into the formal banking system – a recently implemented step – called interoperability. Within this space there are Ghanaians who remain unconnected, and the challenge is how to get everyone involved.

The government is the largest payer and spender in the economy, and it would be hugely beneficial to the technology and financial environment if it were to begin making all of its payments digitally or via mobile money, as cash becomes a thing of the past.

What is being done to encourage a strict cybersecurity ecosystem for telecommunications?

ASHIGBEY: Cybersecurity is turning into one of the government’s core concerns, and the private sector is working diligently to ensure all of the technologies are in place to reduce problems in this area. The biggest challenge is how to engage the end user. Ghanaians are generally very welcoming and trusting, and this can lead to susceptibility to online security threats.

“Cyber-awareness” and “cyber-hygiene” must be increased uniformly across the country. Education is a constant process, but it must be implemented more strongly going forward. Internet fraud is a problem – known locally as sakawa – but small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also targets, and they tend to have little money to invest in advanced cybersecurity systems. With this acknowledged, there are an increasing number of domestic SME solution-providers beginning to tackle this issue. This reflects the increasing attention that is being paid to new technologies as tools with which to solve problems. Predictive maintenance and customer care are two examples of technology playing an active role in the cybersecurity ecosystem.