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Chinese telecom firms spurring Africa’s digital economy

Chinese telecom firms boosting Africa's quest to unlock digital economy


The curiosity of visitors was palpable as they gazed at the stand erected by China Unicom at the vast exhibition hall in one of the high-end hotels in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi when Africa Telecoms Week opened Tuesday.

Looking impressed by sleek brochures and well-arranged furniture at China Unicom’s stand, the visitors had a lengthy conversation with the company’s executives, keen to learn about its product portfolio. Some of the visitors to the Chinese telecoms operator stand included technology enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who had a positive impression of its range of products and services, after listening to the executives.

Billed as a premier gathering of telecommunication industry players, the Africa Telecoms Week, which took place in Nairobi from Sept. 12 to 14, shone a spotlight on the growing influence of Chinese technology firms in the continent’s digital economy.

Some of the Chinese telecommunication firms that participated in the three-day event that ran parallel with an exhibition included China Unicom and China Mobile International Limited.

Bringing together more than 700 participants from 28 African countries, the 2023 Africa Telecoms Week provided a platform for industry players to network, forge business ties, and inject vitality into the continent’s digital economy.

Yao Siyang, the chief executive officer of China Unicom Global, Africa, said the company has rallied behind the continent’s digitization efforts through investment in supportive infrastructure like submarine cable.

“We have one dedicated submarine cable from Cameroon to Brazil and for the telecom companies, we also do connectivity and voice,” Yao told Xinhua during an interview Tuesday.

He added that China Unicom is also providing critical ICT services like cloud, Internet of Things, big data, and video conferencing through partnerships with Africa’s telecom firms.

Yao said the Chinese telecoms operator is keen to enlarge its footprint in the African market, citing the continent’s expanding consumer base for ICT products and solutions. “We are really interested in the African market to do the investments, especially since we have a One Belt One Road for Africa. We have huge hope to make African businesses grow.”

Yao said that through partnerships with indigenous telecom firms, China Unicom has been involved in the launch of technologies crucial for digitizing Africa including satellites and fifth-generation mobile networks (5G).

Given their ability to deploy advanced solutions to accelerate the digital revolution in Africa, the Chinese companies have gained traction with local clients including governments and telecommunication firms, according to Yao.

He said that by participating in Africa Telecoms Week, China Unicom looked forward to establishing new partnerships with mobile operators besides introducing its new products including security for cloud and new submarine cable solutions.

The enlarging footprint of Chinese telecom firms across Africa is boosting the continent’s quest to grow its digital economy and create job opportunities for the youth, said Fiona Asonga, the chief executive officer of the Technology Service Providers Association of Kenya, an industry lobby.

Asonga observed that by leveraging the critical infrastructure, capital, human resources edge, and global reach of Chinese telecom firms, African countries will hasten digitization that promises inclusive growth and ease of doing business.

She added that a close partnership between Chinese and Kenyan mobile operators has provided a platform for local youth to develop and monetize content.

May Wong, the head of carrier business in Africa at China Mobile International Limited, said the continent’s digital economy is poised for revival, amid growing investments and technology support from Chinese telecom firms.

Wong disclosed that China Mobile International Limited has invested in an undersea cable in Africa, the longest in the world, adding that the telecom firm has also focused on carrier business in the continent.

“We also focus on doing digitization in the market because I think it is the future of Africa,” Wong said, adding that through a partnership with local mobile operators, China Mobile International will be able to deploy the latest ICT solutions like Internet of Things into the African market.

Through its Global Graduate Training Program, the Chinese telecoms operator has been providing ICT skills to African youth, to enhance their contribution to the growth of the continent’s digital economy, Wong said.

She expressed confidence in Africa’s telecoms market, noting that it remains vibrant and attractive for investments.

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