Militaries, government agencies can save by piggybacking on commercial ICT infrastructure – expert


Militaries and government agencies can save money, time and effort by utilising existing infrastructure when setting up communications networks, says Ericsson.

Bilal Zahoor, head of Engagement Practice: Fixed Broadband & Convergence at Ericsson said that his company is trying to work with service providers to offer services to government agencies and the military. “There is no sense in replicating existing infrastructure,” he said. “We feel it doesn’t make business or financial sense to duplicate infrastructure.”

For instance, the South African Police Service currently uses the terrestrial trunked radio (Tetra) network, but this is a closed network. “Networks like Tetra are built for one purpose and have limited data capacity,” Zahoor said. By bringing agencies and service providers together, the police could, for instance, buy capacity from MTN rather than setting up their own network at great cost. Emergency traffic could be prioritised and same network calls can be made cheap or free.

Zahoor said that Ericsson is working in several areas with government agencies and militaries, including public safety, command and control and border control.

Zahoor emphasised that Ericsson has traditionally been seen as an information technology/telecommunications company, particularly with regard to the cellular environment, but the company is trying to change this perception and be seen more as an information and communication technology (ICT) company.

He said that Ericsson is focusing on networking devices in an effort to build a network society, so that anything that can be connected can join a network. Zahoor estimated there would be 50 billion connected devices by 2020, from fridges to cellphones.

Zahoor noted that with the right networking, building capacity is not just about building more, but also about managing existing infrastructure. For instance, monitoring and controlling traffic can lead to less congestion without the need to build more roads. “ICT can bring a lot of value in optimising existing resources,” he said.
“In Africa we’re talking to a lot of agencies,” Zahoor said. In South Africa, the focus is on municipalities and mayors regarding command and control, so they can see what all their local agencies are doing. Last year Ericsson received a R1.2 billion contract from the city of Johannesburg to build an ultra-fast broadband network connecting all parts of the city. The company is looking at implementing things like a smart grid that would, for instance, alert customers to when it is cheaper to use electricity.

Ericsson has implemented solutions in Sweden, Italy, Kazakhstan and the United States, giving Africa good references from these international experiences. The company is targeting South Africa as it already has infrastructure set up, and is trying to work in Kenya as it is engaged with agencies there. In addition, other target markets are Cameroon and Nigeria, but the focus is networking in South Africa and Kenya which, “we hope to replicate in other markets” in Africa.

In Cameroon, the government there has been looking into how they can protect their borders – Ericsson could set up surveillance cameras linked back to command and control centres.

However, Zahoor noted that many opportunities in Africa are politically driven and take time, with long sales cycles and lots of effort involved. However, he noted there was a “healthy sales funnel” in Africa, which promises 2 billion Kronor (R2.2 billion) worth of opportunities for Ericsson.