We all live in an age where technology has been key and pivotal to unlocking solutions for the world’s needs. The technology space has been noted as a sector that cuts across every other sector due to technological advancements in our generation.
Here in Ethiopia, IE Networks since its establishment in 2008 has been striving to be the nation’s leading IT company and throughout its existence has worked as the main enterprise solution provider and has partnered with world renowned companies such as Dell, IBM and CISCO which has allowed it to provide the best products and services at the highest standards.
Founded by Meried Bekele, who has a length of experience in the tech space stemming from his works in the Ministry of Innovation and Technology and ICT development agency, the firm has been able to partner with 50 leading companies in the market with 100 plus projects being completed in the process. Meried has also previously served as a consultant for Ethio telecom on the building of its national next generation network project. After completing the project he went on to found his own tech solution firm in IE Networks.
Capital sat down with IE networks’ founder and CEO Meried Bekele for insights in Ethiopia’s technological space and the company’s successes. Excerpts;
Capital: It has been 12 years since you establish the company. How can you sum up the last 12 years, since the concept of IT is relatively new and growing in Ethiopia?
Meried Bekele: IT covers lots of things as it brings the service to the end user, in this process there are lots of infrastructures required. Notably throughout our firm’s existence, Telecom is the first one which built the connectivity over the nation by connecting with world wide networks. Despite the fact of Ethiopia being late to the world of internet, Ethio telecom has been doing certain expansion works, which takes the IT infrastructure of the nation some steps forward. However there are still some “chokings”.
The other parts of the world has better internet speed, in comparison to us and as we all know when the internet speed increases the service will improves exponentially.
Over the years, we have witnessed the change in broad band, the use mobile and smart phone devices, advancements in the internet service, and certain new generation networks have been created starting from the 2G and now the word is deploying 5G or on the fifth generation network which much faster than the other. Of course, now the world is discussing the design of yet another network upgrade in 6G, so to this regard we will see 6G networks in commercial operation sooner rather than later.
Capital: What do you mean by “chokings”?
Meried Bekele: Choking in this case is metaphorical, which in our case means bottlenecks and hurdles yet to be overcome. The first one is that the sector was not open for other operators, since competition in the sector brings about positive changes in quality of service. However, this might change as there are new entrants in the telecommunications industry. Quality service with regards to infrastructure has been limited when compared to other countries, so opening for the sector for other operators could result in positive development on the sector, but still only having two or three operators could not develop the IT sector and thus there should be small players as internet service providers. For example in other countries, there are hundreds of ISPs which provide internet services in small areas. Ethiopia is closed for such kind of market and openness in the same should be looked into. Telecom liberalization was only focused on the big operator, which forgets the ISP internet providers. There is a certain policy draft on this and if it is completed this can be one of the solutions for the sector. There are certain local companies which have the ability to give such kind of services.
The other thing is IT in our country is taken as a luxury. IT in all honesty should be regarded as a multi connecting sector which is an enabler for every sector for example the health, agriculture and others should prioritize the sector, especially the private sector.
For example, we can divide the sectors in to two: the first one, which of course is the startup whilst the other is the mature and more sustainable business. For startups, it is important to support them with both financial and management since they only have the idea, while mature business want capital and thus there ought to be a system to support them. So the government needs to strength its activity on this, even if it’s difficult to get foreign currency to import equipment after taking over projects.
Capital: Both Ethio telecom and the new awarded telecom service providers are planning to deploy the fifth generation network. However, there are some people arguing that strengthening of the already existing network ought to be prioritized than deploying new ones. What is your argument on the issue?
Meried Bekele: Of course we need to walk with the rest of the world. The world also got to this by taking massive strides and as late comers I believe we should take the step in buying the technology.
If we are considering an upgrade in technology, I think it’s better if we have it. However, when the question bottles down to prioritization of its application, we cannot deploy 5G everywhere but we can make it be in use within the commercial districts where there are lot of customers, and it can thus be provided to those who can pay, since it is an expensive service than others.
So expanding the network where there is no service will be just wastage so we need to work on the use case before the expansion. In this case increasing startups will have a positive role in terms of using resources and benefiting the community.
Capital: What is the difference between internets of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), also how has its application been in Ethiopia?
Meried Bekele: The internet provides a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols using wire and wireless networks. Through the Internet, people can share information and communicate from anywhere with an Internet connection. The first internet concept was connecting computers created by the US defense for internal use and following the adoption of International connections then came its commercialization on a worldwide scale. Through process, mobiles become part of the internet which is one stage in the history of Internet, additional to mobiles now a days things are becoming part of the internet. This describes the network of physical objects, so known as, “things” that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies that is used for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet from everywhere. This could apply to different sectors which could be in agriculture, health, and so on.
Artificial intelligence is based on data and is the ability of a computer or a robot controlled by a computer to do tasks that are usually done by humans because they require human intelligence and discernment. Using internet of things, people store and send lots of data which can be stored in one place. AI uses the data to create a new information or products or super knowledge by analyzing the stored data.
So in our country’s case, an artificial intelligence center has been established and there are scientists where as in my opinion we don’t have that much data. Most of the people use internet for basic communication mechanism, most of governmental offices are still using manual and unstructured data systems.
Of course there is a huge potential for the entrepreneurs in our country for this sector the technology industry is evolving day by day. Therefore we need to increase our culture of internet using and create applications to be beneficiaries of artificial intelligence.
Capital: What are the success stories of your company during the last 12 years? What kind of projects have you done so far?
Meried Bekele: We have been involved exclusively in the areas ranging from enterprise network services and business automation intelligence to smart infrastructure and cloud services, including building data centers, importing and deploying IT equipment’s and installing applications in to data centers. Additionally we have been working on office automation.
In our twelve years of existence, we have been able to move all of the Ethiopian Airlines data to new servers, and update their core networking system. We have built data center for the Ministry of revenue, finance and agriculture. For the Federal Auditor General we have built data centers including the physical work. For banks, we have upgraded data systems of commercial bank of Ethiopia, Dashen bank, Awash and also Debub global bank. We have built data infrastructure for lots of universities including Wello University, Bahirdar, Arbaminch, and Addis Ababa. This in brief are some of our success stories in the field of technology advancements in or sector.
Capital: Do you develop Applications?
Meried Bekele: In terms of Applications, we have been working in two major ways. Firstly have been partnering with big application companies where we reprogram the product based on the demand of the customer. For example we are doing such kind of works for et-switch, Dashen bank and the Ministry of Transport and Ethiopian Road Authority,
Secondly we do build apps from the scratch, but so far we haven’t commercialized these products. We are using it for our own purpose, such as HR applications, digital ID, performance management system. We look forward to bringing them to the commercial market when we feel they are fit to the market.
Capital: Are you planning to work with the new operators?
Meried Bekele: We have been in talks with them. Last time they also visited our offices and it’s my belief that we will work together formally in the future to come.
Capital: What is your plan for the future?
Meried Bekele: We are planning to build data centers in the ICT Park so as to store data locally. However, it has been 3 years since we applied for an opportunity to get land within the ICT park and we are hopeful when given the chance we will provide the development of technological advancements within the tech sector. We also plan to continue being a trusted partner for all our clients as we successfully deliver projects which are impactful.