ZTE: Collaboration needed to close usage, connection gaps

Johannesburg, 11 Oct 2021
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There is a pressing need for governments and industry to collaborate to close the mobile network usage and connection gap, as not only are 8% of the global population still unconnected, almost 41% are not able to access these networks for myriad reasons.

One major contributor to the usage gap is a lack of digital literacy, a problem that could be solved by the creation of the right cloud-based infrastructure, which could help promote the development of local applications and content.

So said James Zhang, president of global marketing at ZTE, speaking during a keynote address for MWC Africa this week.

According to him, telecommunications is one of the fastest developing industries in modern civilisation and has blended into every aspect of society. For citizens, telecommunications are as inseparable in daily life as water and electricity. For the national economy, telecommunications is driving the rapid growth of the digital economy. In fact, CAICT states that the digital economy has reached 43.7% of global GDP.

Zhang also mentioned that through the ongoing integration of ICT, technologies such as AI, big data and chips have been ingrained into the whole industry, ensuring continued evolution, promoting technological innovation and improving commercial networks.

“For thousands of vertical industries, the power of connectivity and computing is accelerating the process of digital transformation.” 

He further iterated that ZTE played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the early stage of the pandemic, due to extensive home quarantine and suspended social and economic activities, most of the data traffic on the network was for family entertainment and social media.

However, with the resumption of work and production, communication networks needed to support remote work with connectivity for video conferencing, intelligent control, remote education and many others, which helped governments balance between protecting citizens and the economy.

But as we slowly recover from the pandemic, the most significant challenge we face today has become clear, which Zhang said is the digital divide.

There are two major factors leading to the digital divide – the connection gap and the usage gap. There is a connection gap because 8% of the global population are still not connected. In addition, 41% of the global population are not effectively using the network for several reasons – this is called the usage gap.

“We need to collaborate to bridge the connection and usage gaps to further benefit the development of the people of Africa,” he says.

He cites the opening ceremony of MWC Barcelona this year, where GSMA director Mats Granryd spoke of three C keywords: Challenge, champion and care, to state the goal the industry should be constantly striving for.

Zhang summarised the direction of ZTE’s activities with another few keywords starting with C. “The first keyword is connect. Network connectivity is our top priority, and we have been working continuously towards this purpose by changing the form of the devices to improve space utilisation and energy efficiency. In this regard, ZTE proposed the principle of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division at the beginning of 5G, and provided a differentiated scenario-based solution via the ultra-simplified UniSite. We achieve rapid site deployment with all-in-one cabinets, all-on-tower installation and green energy solutions.”

However, further thought is needed for the connection gap, because rural areas are lacking equal opportunity. Public services such as healthcare and education are a big challenge; for connectivity to be obtained in these areas, high-quality networks that can deliver services to rural areas is the solution.

“We believe high quality, multifunctional and rich service broadband connectivity is significant for rural areas. To bridge the connection gap, delivering comprehensive network capabilities is more crucial to bridge the divide.”

The second keyword, said Zhang, is create. “Firstly, to create an effective cloud network digital infrastructure, and based on this, to create more local applications and content, and finally, to create a unique digital culture to eventually bridge the usage gap. Innovation and discovery are required to develop applications and content that match local usage habits, languages and customs.”

Two aspects are critical to achieving this. "Firstly, to drive content and application development by analysing local demand and usage; and secondly, to utilise network capabilities and edge computing platforms to enable low-cost trial and error during development. This will give developers the ability to develop content and apps on a large scale for different regions as well as enable rapid iteration.”

The final keyword is collaborate. Zhang said many of our greatest achievements have happened through collaboration, particularly where difficult tasks are concerned. “For example, by using different applications from the App Store, smartphones can be transformed into multifunctional devices, which have exceeded the original role of voice communication or messaging.”

The same, he said, is true for ZTE’s Cloud Network Platform, because through collaboration with a variety of industries, capabilities have already outstripped the original service boundaries. “Based on these cross-industry collaborations, we jointly broaden the ecosystem, develop digital citizenship and enable digital transformation for the whole of society.”

In closing, Zhang said to bridge the digital divide, broader support and continuous investment is needed, and ZTE will collaborate with governments, operators, content and application developers.

“Government can take the lead in formulating policies for rural areas, like supporting policies in terms of spectrum, infrastructure and others. Operators can bridge the digital divide by quickly building networks to facilitate user access, driving up network construction efficiency. As an equipment vendor, we bridge the cloud network infrastructure and digital intelligence applications.”

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