The 2019 edition of the Mobile World Conference (MWC), arguably one of the world's biggest technology events, was scheduled to take place in Barcelona, Spain from February 25 to February 28. It is the largest exhibition for the mobile device industry on the planet, and incorporates a thought-leadership conference featuring prominent executives representing global mobile operators, device manufacturers, technology providers, vendors, and content owners.
This year Sam Burke, CNN's Business and Technology correspondent, worked with Folio to cover the event at Barcelona, and he successfully relayed highlights of the conference, while interacting with Nigerian technology enthusiasts on social media, engaging in discussions and responding to important questions bordering on the mobile culture in Nigeria.
On the question of major mobile trends for Nigerians, Burke said:
"5G is a huge theme, the biggest theme at the Mobile World Congress this year. But from all the analysts that we have heard from, the most important trend for the (African) region is the move from 2G to 3G. It's disappointing for many folks to hear, but it is crucial because the difference between 2G and 3G is actually more significant than the move from 4G to 5G which is more about infrastructure, and actually, it would take some years before a lot of those devices that need the 5G connection are actually in place, even though the spectrum would be there this year. Now that's not to say that 5G isn't a trend in Africa, it's there, but on a much smaller scale. It's just that the 2G-to-3G as well as the 3G-to-4G switch has to be made, so that those people in rural areas can get basic access to the rest of the world."
When faced with the question of 5G's potential impact on the lives of Africans in the face of slow-paced agricultural and industrial development, he replied:
"There is actually a school of thought that thinks the gap can be bridged much faster using technology like 5G. There are places in Africa that are falling behind. Whether it's 3G, 4G or 5G, that release of technology can help bridge that gap faster than ever before in the history of the continent. When you think about things like healthcare services for example, maybe being able to have your doctor via Facetime or Whatsapp video...that is actually what I am using in the U.K, and if you can make it in such a way that it's not just about somebody in the city, but that there is also provision for somebody in rural Africa who would not ordinarily have access to those services, then it could be a huge change, a huge shift for the African economy, so those types of tools are able to roll out services that haven't been previously available through 3G, 4G and 5G, and ultimately have the potential to revolutionalise the economy."
Burke also commented on the issue of new technologies expected to break grounds in Africa (and specifically in Nigeria) in 2019, stating thus:
"So many people think that it's going to be healthcare, and because of that gap there's actually space for Africans to innovate in a way that is maybe not happening in other countries, probably because there is that scarcity of a doctor (for example) in so many parts of rural Africa, so if the continent uses that opportunity, they might be able to export the best practices being implemented on the continent to other places that haven't caught up, because there isn't such a need for those services just yet, and that could be Africa's big chance to take what works for them and sell it to the rest of the world. "
There was also room to discuss the possibility of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics being used to positively impacting the African continent, and in respect of this, he said:
"One of the biggest benefits of 5G and Artificial Intelligence is that it can take huge data sets and figure out where the inefficiencies are in the system to make it more efficient, so hopefully that can stop problems like waste. There is a whole school of thought about using artificial intellligence to manage food and to limit food waste. Imagine what that could do for economies if they could have that much efficiency and find out where they need to put food: 'if we have enough here, could we take the surplus to another spot?'...especially when it comes to agriculture, there are so many places that don't have that level of development in terms of huge industrialised agriculture. Take a look at Israel, look at what a small economy faced with a real lack of resources when it comes to agriculture has been able to do with their technology. I think if a place like Africa looks at the best practices there, maybe the use of drones to help them manage agriculture...and it's not so much about the drones, it's more about the data that the drones collect, and the artificial intelligence processing that data in the way that humans never could. Using that infrastructure to then make improvements in agriculture could have a huge impact on the African economy and again, open up doors for African innovators to sell their products."
From these intense enagements, it is not too difficult to decipher the direction of mobile technology when it comes to the African space. Progress may be slow, particularly in terms of the arrival of 5G, but giant leaps in the Nigerian tech scene are certainly not far away.
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