Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East 2012 Broadband powerful boost for safety, health, and economic development

Broadband powerful boost for safety, health, and economic development

by david.nunes
Omran MohammedIssue:AME 2012
Article no.:2
Topic:Broadband powerful boost for safety, health, and economic development
Author:Mohammed Omran
PDF size:235KB

About author

Mohammed Omran is Group Chairman in Etisalat. Mohammed Omran, was re-elected Chairman of Etisalat in 2008 having previously served as Chairman and CEO – a position he attained in 2005. He also serves as the Chairman of Thuraya, one of the world’s leading satellite geo-mobile communication systems with coverage spanning approximately two thirds of the planet, a position he has held since 1997.

Mr Omran joined Etisalat in 1977, one year after it was formed. He achieved his first senior position as the Area Manager in Ras Al Khaimah in 1982. He was then appointed Deputy General Manager for Etisalat in 1984 and became Etisalat’s Senior Executive Vice President in 1999. He was later named the company’s Chief Executive Officer in 2004. Under his leadership, Etisalat has been named best telecommunications company in the Middle East five times in the last three years and was named ‘Best International Carrier’ at the 2008 World Communications Awards. Mr Omran is well-known as one of the most influential figures in the telecommunications industry in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. He has received awards for his contribution to the sector at the Abu Dhabi Economic Forum, Telecom World Middle East Awards and Comms MEA Awards.

Mohammed Omran received an Engineering Degree in Electronics and Communications from Cairo University, Egypt, in June 1977.

Article abstract

Mobile broadband has a pivotal role in Africa’s effort to achieve United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to improve education, health and the environment by 2015. For education – Broadband can equip them with valuable ICT skills, and further Distance Learning can enhance the prospects of the ‘under-served’. For Health – Broadband opens a window on the world’s information resources that help to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, and child and mother mortality at childbirth can be prevented by sending scans and streamed videos to remote experts for on-the-spot advice. The environment benefits from Broadband in ‘smart’ electricity grids, information on natural resources and timely weather forecasts that help farmers and fishermen to work in safer conditions. African governments must embrace Broadband as a high priority, and help to reach their people, wherever they are.

Full Article

Mobile broadband connectivity is a catalyst for economic growth and social development, while the humble handset bridges the digital divide and improves people’s lives immeasurably. Statistics released by the GSMA, the global mobile industry association, reveal that economies can expect a one per cent growth in GDP for every 10 per cent rise in mobile phone penetration.

Telecommunications is underscored by the word ‘transformational’. It transforms economies, connects communities, facilitates business and improves the lives of individuals. No other industry can match this profound impact, especially in the emerging markets of Africa and Asia. Quality of life, prospering communities and resilient economies depend on substantial networks and infrastructure, continued ability to compete successfully on a global level and on the standard of the systems.

This is summed up succinctly by Etisalat chairman Mohammed Omran: “The mobile industry’s contribution to socio-economic growth can be amplified with appropriate regulations that support a multiplier effect in information and communication technologies (ICT) investment. Despite having some of the highest mobile penetration rates anywhere in the world, the Middle East and Africa are still in the first telecommunications evolution wave as it moves from voice mobility to broadband connectivity.”

Mr Omran has urged these two emerging markets to create an appropriate policy ecosystem that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship to unlock the economic value of mobile broadband connectivity. “Mobile communications is a powerful enabler of economic and social development but the benefits of mobility and connectivity can only be effective with the supportive engagement of policymakers and other stakeholders,” he said. Pursuing and realising this vision in a country such as the UAE could result in the ICT industry valued at more than AED 100 billion by the end of 2016 – at least 130 per cent increase on 2010 figures.

Mr Omran added: “The vision of a diversified knowledge economy needs a buoyant and innovative ICT sector. We need to train the new generation in the jobs of the future and give them the space and freedom to innovate. We have a huge opportunity to capitalise on the rapid deployment of mobile broadband connectivity to turbo-charge economic growth and social development across the region, but it will take a coordinated effort to realise that potential”.

Etisalat Egypt introduced the first video call in the history of the North African country, while Etisalat Nigeria brought 3G technology to that nation. In Sudan, the fibre optic cabling network was expanded by 3,600 km nationally, and by 850 km at the local level in major cities, to provide service to mobile operators, internet providers and the business sector. Sudan is now the East African Internet gateway to the world.

Mobile broadband can clearly assist Africa in reaching the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the global blueprint for a better world, which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by 2015. Broadband has a strong role to play in helping reach the MDG deadline. It can help teach children via the internet. Mobile technology is also transforming healthcare and banking.

Statistics have shown that in the next two to three years, there will be roughly as many mobile cellular subscriptions as there are people on earth. When the New Year fireworks explode to welcome 2020, experts anticipate more than 50 billion connected devices. With seven billion people to serve, ICT looms as the most powerful channel ever for reaching out to others, irrespective of circumstances. ICT is also our best chance of attaining the MDGs by the target date of 2015. The MDGs may appear ambitious, but they are achievable if swept along by broadband.

The general feeling is that the MDGs can be reached if nations embrace the uniqueness and power of mobile broadband technology. The MDGs are inexorably linked. Combating disease reduces child mortality, and providing all children with basic education leads to gender equality. When MDGs are slotted into three broad areas – education, health, and the environment – the pivotal role of broadband becomes clear.

The MDGs are:

• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

• Achieve universal primary education

• Promote gender equality and empower women

• Reduce child mortality

• Improve maternal health

• Combat HIV and AIDS, malaria, and other diseases

• Ensure environmental sustainability

• Develop a global partnership for development

Broadband can solve the problem of providing education in under-served areas. Roughly 90 per cent of children in the developing world are enrolled in primary school, but in some regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, up to 30 per cent drop out before their final primary year. Broadband equips them with valuable ICT skills and opens a window on the world’s information resources. It better engages them and does so in a multitude of languages.

Broadband technologies can also bridge gaps between rural and other underserved areas as well as a nation’s most populated areas. These technologies can combine voice, video and data – each being as indispensable (if not more so) in less populated areas as in the big cities. However, such technologies require infrastructure development that is not always readily available in many bush areas. Broadband technologies are vital when it comes to including under-served people in the information age so that distance learning can be facilitated. This results in greater access to information and services, and better career and economic opportunities.

The use of broadband technology to keep the public safe is essential when confronted by man-made or natural disasters. For people to be protected and to protect themselves they must be able to communicate quickly and efficiently.

Meantime, technology transforms healthcare in so many ways. It might be basic SMS reminders for vaccinations or anti-retroviral treatments, to grassroots information-gathering on demographics and diseases, to mobile information repositories for personal health records. The simple cell phone is now the linchpin of many health programmes throughout Africa. With more than half a million women dying due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, the greater tragedy is that most of these deaths are preventable. However, in Africa, fewer than half of all births are attended by a midwife or skilled health worker. It’s not suggested that a healthcare professional can be substituted, but broadband access is helping train community field workers, as well as providing expectant mothers and families with basic, straightforward advice. Foetal scans taken in rural or mobile hospitals can be sent using broadband from mobile phone to large city hospitals for swift, expert advice. The result? Safeguarding health – and lives.

The wide-ranging MDG on environmental sustainability covers provision of safe drinking water and basic sanitation, protecting biodiversity, improving the lives of slum-dwellers and more. Broadband is a key link. ‘Smart’ electricity grids are a case in point. They make it easier for locally generated electricity (including from renewable sources) to be integrated, stored, and shared as demand fluctuates. Farmers and fishermen can receive weather forecasts directly to their mobile phones, enabling them to operate more efficiently while living and working in a safer environment.

Many work-oriented and potential employment situations for the needy are being changed for the better by the spread of broadband. Initiatives are improving the chances of slum-dwellers in many countries, such as Kenya, where those in reduced circumstances now have access to employment and training.

Broadband gives small businesses the opportunity to broaden their customer base and reduce their overheads through e-commerce platforms. Due to the massive potential of Broadband, it is imperative that it is at the top of the political agenda around the world to accelerate its deployment.

Experts have agreed on four critical targets that all countries should to strive to hit by 2015:

• Making broadband policy universal

• Making broadband affordable

• Connecting homes to broadband

• Getting people online

The time for mobile broadband is now, but streamlining is necessary to expedite the process. While finance is available to fill the infrastructure gap in Africa, some governments are too slow to move. It is important to step up efforts to reduce the length and complexity of the planning-to-implementation process of regional infrastructure projects. It is beyond doubt that broadband is an accelerator of economic development, providing significant benefits to numerous industries. The facts show that with broadband access, worker productivity increases, jobs are created, and wages grow. Broadband enables operators to offer more services to consumers for less, creating added efficiencies in both time and money.

Related industries grow with the continued deployment of broadband. Increased penetration rates of broadband will continue to increase demand for more advanced computer and home networking equipment, wireless handheld devices, and other apparatus that makes broadband use a reality. The ultra-promising outlook for the ICT and broadband sectors ran into some headwinds during the peak of the global financial crisis. There was a slackening of investment capital for a period and some deployment was put on hold which caused concern over the future of economic and social benefits. However, forward-thinking approaches to ICT policies have kept the exciting momentum going.

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