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In an exclusive interview, Mikko Lavanti, SVP, Mobile Networks, Nokia Middle East and Africa (MEA), shares insights about the company’s progress and momentum towards 5G growth in the region and how it seeks to transform customer networks and their notable ESG efforts to date.

The latest Nokia MEA Mobile Broadband Index highlighted the steady growth of 5G in the MEA region. Can you share some of the key takeaways from this report?

Indeed, we have recently published the second MEA Mobile Broadband Index report, and there are a couple of things I'd like to highlight.

It’s not a big surprise that the Gulf area — the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait — is clearly where accelerated 5G consumption is happening right now, and we have estimated that there's still a lot of 5G to come.

In fact, Q4 2022 was the first quarter that 5G traffic took over 3G traffic in data. So, we can see that data growth will continue. In Africa, we think that the 5G will be a dominant technology only somewhere between 2027 and 2028. While in the Middle East, we see the most important countries opening their frequencies, like Jordan did recently.

Another interesting thing is fixed wireless access (FWA). We estimate that there will be 23 million subscribers or customers by 2027. When customers ask me, “Where do I make my money?” I think fixed wireless access is one of the drivers.

Lastly, private networks are another aspect [that] we believe is where enterprise markets will continue to grow.

Please detail the progress and momentum of Nokia's Mobile Networks Business Group in the region, particularly regarding 5G.

We have created a specific, focused strategy to grow our business here, not only in 5G but also 4G, and in some cases also 2G and 3G because those are needed in Africa.

The first thing that we've done after that is put in our North Star, which is to be the preferred partner for our customers. That means that we have worked a lot on our people side. Our target is to be really proactive.

For example, we want to be anticipating customer needs; we have continued to build what we call the NICE tool, where we can combine different sources of data together and share with our customers the next places where they would need to invest capacity or coverage — very powerful tool together with our people.

The second thing that we have done is what we call the “C minus one,” which flips the organization 90 degrees. Instead of talking about N minus something, where N stands for the Nokia CEO, now our organization talks about C minus one, and C stands for the customer.

And what is extremely important in that one is that we have put in place our Tricon: a very good account manager, a very good technical sales manager (we call them solution managers) and a very good delivery manager. The rest of the organization supports them in order to meet our customer-specific requirements.

For proof points, we have MTN South Africa, which in February, during the Mobile World Congress, announced 5G expansion with Nokia, and we’re very proud of that win. In Jordan recently, they have also launched 5G, and out of the three operators, we are the 100% service provider for both Zain Jordan and Orange Jordan, which both cover 80% of the market.

We have created nice momentum, and there are a lot of good things happening in the whole area if we look at what we're doing with other customers like Vodacom, stc, Mobily and Zain. I'm really proud of our organization.

How are you taking forward the “power of n” to transform customers’ networks?

I'm happy that you have seen our renewed brand. From what we observed in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress upon launching, the Nokia booth was the most visited, showing how well-received our renewed brand was.

And why did we do that? There's a long history of Nokia, starting from being a rubber boots company, cable company and paper company. In the last decades, people would always remember mobile phones, but that's not the Nokia we are today.

As you might remember, in Nokia, we have Siemens, Alcatel, Lucent and Motorola as well as parts of Nortel and Panasonic, which are mobile network companies that have come together. But our business is not anymore in providing the terminals; our business is to provide networks that connect the cloud, and we see more and more that the cloud sector’s growth must be in the enterprise segment.

In the enterprise segment, it's all about the industrial metaverse. When I visited Silicon Valley, we met with many companies that are doing digital twins. So, what you will see from Nokia is not only the brand refresh, but we are focusing on the “power of n” — it's the power of the networks, which are decentralizing, automating and making our societies safer and more environmentally friendly. As we say, there is no green without digital, and that's one of those things that will come in this “power of n.”

In order to get that kind of message through in the markets, we wanted to rebrand, bringing along a fresh color scheme to attract young people because we also want them to join us.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is a core part of Nokia’s strategy. How is your team translating this on the ground in MEA?

Nokia's purpose is clear: we create the technology that helps the world act together. safety is so important. We were recently at the global Nokia Leadership Summit, and our Ethiopian team received the global safety award. In an environment, which is extremely complicated in Ethiopia, our team has been able to do a full turnkey project without any fatal casualties. Every day when I come to the office, when I talk with my team, they put that safety is so important.

The second thing we take pride on in the ESGs is our compliance. You might have seen that Nokia was once again selected as the most ethical company in the world. And that is something so important, particularly in countries where there are a lot of corruption and risks around us. So, we want to bring those processes that help our customers to do the right decisions every day.

If you look at the digital divide, I'm happy to talk that in MTN's case in South Africa, we are actually training 1,000 South African youth in a university in Finland per year for innovation and business modeling.

Another example is the type of product development we do because energy efficiency is so important in our R&D (e.g., from chipset design, we are going to the smaller seven-five nanometer chips). We also launched Habrok, liquid cooling and self-organizing network (SON) software solutions. A lot of things come into our product development and our portfolio that will help you save energy and be more environmentally friendly.

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