How does Ireland fare when it comes to global connectivity?

10 Mar 2021

Image: © UTBP/Stock.adobe.com

Huawei’s Andrew Williamson spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about Ireland’s position when it comes to global connectivity and digital transformation.

Earlier this year, Huawei released its annual Global Connectivity Index (GCI) for 2020. The report assesses the state of play in the global digital economy and measures a range of metrics that Huawei deems to be significant in enabling a country’s growth and competitiveness.

The latest index found that economies with higher GCI scores were less affected by the pandemic due to having “greater digital readiness”.

The GCI examines 40 indicators grouped across four broad pillars, which are supply, demand, experience and potential.

Supply relates to the quality and range of a country’s ICT products and services. Demand is about a country’s appetite for digital transformation. Experience comprises indicators that measure the quality of ICT product and service experience, while potential examines forward-looking indicators of potential growth in emerging technologies such as 5G, cloud computing and IoT.

The report scores 79 countries based on these metrics, splitting them into starters, adopters and frontrunners.

The report found that people and businesses in frontrunner economies, which have the highest GCI scores, have been able to transition faster to remote work, school, business and services due to a strong digital infrastructure, including high-speed broadband and cloud.

Andrew Williamson is a vice-president of the government affairs team and an economic adviser at Huawei. He spoke to Siliconrepublic.com about what the latest GCI report shows in more detail.

“Our research for 2020 adds to others in establishing the link to pandemic economic resilience and national digital sophistication,” he said.

“We establish quantitatively that, for our frontrunner group of countries, expected contractions in GDP are around 7pc compared with 14pc for the following group of adopter countries with lower GCI scores.”

‘Investment in the fields of AI, IoT, 5G and other technologies can help transform Ireland’s economy’
– ANDREW WILLIAMSON

Williamson noted a positive trend when examining the report more broadly from 2015 to 2020, in that starter countries are narrowing the gap with countries with higher GCI scores.

“Vietnam and Peru are our stand-out countries, both progressing to the adopter group of countries from starters in that period. This chimes with economic theory that capital and investment should flow to those countries that are furthest behind and where potential returns are highest,” he said.

“Since 2015, starter nations increased their mobile broadband adoption by more than 2.5 times, with several countries moving close to 100pc coverage. Additionally, 4G subscribers in starter nations have gone from an average of 1pc of the population to an average of 19pc in 2019, with some countries reaching more than 30pc of their population having high speed 4G mobile broadband coverage.”

Irish SMEs need support for digital transformation

Out of the 79 nations measured in the Huawei GCI, Ireland comes in at 18, down one place from 2019. Williamson said while its score is high enough to sit in the frontrunner group of countries, it sits at the lower end of this band.

He said that while Ireland scores well across the metrics that compose the index’s demand, experience and potential pillars, it’s at the lower end of global averages when it comes to supply.

“Within the supply category, Ireland scores at or near the global averages for 4G and 5G connections, cloud investment, international internet bandwidth, security software investment, IoT investment and AI investment,” he said.

“It’s an investment shortfall story, essentially, against its competitors. According to GCI, Ireland’s relative strengths lie in secured internet servers, AI demand, cloud experience, data creation, IoT analytics, IT workforce and ICT patents.”

A headshot of Andrew Williamson from Huawei, wearing a suit and tie.

Andrew Williamson. Image: Huawei

Williamson added that there are encouraging signs in Ireland when it comes to strategic vision and commitment, especially with the country ranking sixth in the European Commission’s Digital Economy and Society Index.

However, he said SMEs in Ireland need support to embrace digital transformation to drive the economy forward in a post-Covid world.

The pandemic and the lessons learned by SMEs mean that we are witnessing an acceleration in business demand for new technologies and digital solutions that will help them respond to change and opportunity,” he said.

Williamson noted a recent survey of Irish SMEs found that capabilities in relation to data analysis would be a key enabler for SMEs’ digital transformation strategies in the next five years. The same report suggested that a lack of investment in 5G infrastructure would badly affect SMEs in the next decade.

“Ireland has many strengths which positions the country to have a leadership position in digital transformation. Ireland is the location for the European headquarters of many of the largest global ICT companies. There is a strong innovation ecosystem and a responsive skills architecture,” he said.

“Investment in the fields of AI, IoT, 5G and other technologies can help transform Ireland’s economy creating opportunities for further growth of the country’s innovation ecosystem.

“Overall, we believe that digital should be accepted as a major engine for growth post-Covid, helping to prevent a protracted L-shaped recession and transform the economy. A smart economy promises improved productivity and new business opportunities over the longer term.”

Jenny Darmody is the deputy editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com