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Ghana 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Russell Xu, CEO of Huawei Technologies (Ghana) S.A. Ltd., on the role the company is playing in Ghana and developing local staff.

Russell Xu
BIOGRAPHY
Russell Xu graduated from Nanjing University of Post and Telecommunications (NUPT) and has worked in Huawei for more than 18 years. With Huawei, he has worked in South Asia, the Middle East, and West Africa.

What role does Huawei play in the Ghanaian ICT market?

Huawei Ghana has been in the local market for 10 years since its founding in 2005. We have developed three lines of business, the first being our public sector operations, through which we cooperate with the Ministry of Communication, the Ministry of Energy, and numerous other government entities. Our second line of business is in the private sector, working with corporate clients and operators, including MTN, Vodafone, Airtel, Tigo, Glo, and even new operators such as Blu and Surfline. Our final line of business is in the new products segment of the market, such as smartphones and devices.

Can you describe your work with Surfline in rolling out Phase II of its LTE/4G capacity?

We have demonstrated reliability, cooperation, and advanced technology, and that is why Surfline chose Huawei as its strategic partner for Phase II. Surfline is using us as the supplier of Phase II equipment, as the maintenance service provider, and as the ITO for the whole network. By the end of 2015, we are going to launch some services in Kumasi. Until now, Surfline has only launched 4G services in Accra, so there is a huge demand for the service in Kumasi as well. We should have approximately 40 4G sites available in Kumasi by the beginning of 2016.

How has Huawei promoted ICT in Ghana?

We use our global experience, financing, and professional expertise to bring more value to the government to increase the level of ICT in Ghana. In 2015 we introduced our Seeds for the Future Program to Ghana. Every year under this program we will invite 15 college-age students from Ghana to come to China for one month of training in the latest ICT technology, as well as having a valuable intercultural experience. They will bring that latest technology back to Ghana. Huawei has also donated four ICT laboratories to universities in Ghana, namely the University of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the University of Cape Coast, and the University for Development Studies (UDS). This will allow university students to be trained using the latest technology, because we want to help improve the level of education here.

How has Huawei adapted its business model to match Ghana's device market?

Even though we now rank number three in the world for smart devices, I have found that the African market is better for entry-level smartphones. In the past, the most popular phones have been feature phones, while smartphones now have 18-20% of the Ghana market. We also found from our market analysis that 50-60% of smartphone demand is for phones valued at less than $200. Nevertheless, we are still finding healthy demand here. We launched the high-end P8 phone in mid-2015, and every month we have sold more than 1,000 devices, which has actually exceeded our expectations. In the near future, we expect phones will be replaced by the smartphone. That is why Huawei also provides entry-level smartphones priced at around $50, like the Y300 series. This is good because it meets the demand from people who want to use social media, music sites, and various applications, which in turn creates more demand and adds more value for operators.

What is the capacity here to employ local engineers and other Ghanaian staff?

Huawei has around 700 employees in Ghana, of which only around 100 are Chinese, while the rest are Ghanaian. These include a number of professionals doing high-tech jobs. We have maintenance service contracts for MTN and Vodafone, and more than 98% of the workers are locals in these two big teams and they carry out network maintenance by themselves. Based on this kind of platform, we want to improve the ICT level of Ghanaians. In the future, we will be able to further reduce the number of Chinese workers here.

What are your goals for 2016?

We still have positive expectations for 2016 because MTN has received a license to develop its 4G network, and this gives Huawei more opportunities. We also have some other projects operating within the government sector. Our smartphone devices segment has grown quickly as well. The company's smartphone market in Ghana has increased from 3% to 10%, and in 2016 we expect it to increase by another 20-25%.