Minister of Telecommunication, Foreign Employment and Sports Harin Fernando pointed out that the Government’s aim is to make Sri Lanka a benchmark in adopting digital technologies for Government administration and public affairs management, whilst the necessary technical infrastructure to facilitate this effort, especially in rural areas, will be provided. He further said that 5G technology is essential in this regard and Sri Lanka foresees digitalisation and 5G as the ‘energy pill’ for economic growth. Following are excerpts from the interview:
Q: How do you expect to transform Sri Lanka to a competitive economy with the help of ICT technology and digitisation?
Telecommunication, Foreign Employment and Sports Minister Harin Fernando
We want to make Sri Lanka digital. As you know our Government’s key ambition is to create ‘a country enriched by 2025’ and for that we hope to achieve inclusive growth through major infrastructural development and through a process of technological optimisation and digitalisation. Digitalisation is the key to digitisation of an economy. For that we need to develop infrastructure of telecommunications and ICT. Therefore we will encourage the telecommunications and ICT sector development to expand inclusive growth and to make Sri Lanka digital. We also have planned out to encourage the transfer of appropriate foreign technologies into Sri Lanka. Such technology investments could be adapted to address issues of national as well as regional importance and will also help Sri Lanka move up the technological ladder. We believe in order to achieve this 5G technology is essential to Sri Lanka.
Q: How will you support industries and how will you enable them to collectively achieve digitisation?
As I said we want have a Government 4.0 in Sri Lanka heading with digital transformation similar to the fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 is transforming industrial landscape. Therefore we want to make Sri Lanka a benchmark in adopting digital technologies for Government administration and public affairs management. We will provide the technical infrastructure necessary to facilitate this effort, especially in rural areas. Introducing ICT literacy early in the school curriculum will reduce the skills gap created by high rates of youth entering the labour force as low-skilled or informal sector workers. Especially we will increase incentives provided to widen internet access and internet penetration.
Q: When will Sri Lanka be ready with 5G technology?
Sri Lanka has already emerged as the first South Asian nation to demonstrate 5th generation mobile telephony in 2018. Earlier Sri Lanka has been successful to become the country with first operator in South Asia to start commercial operations of 4G-LTE services, after introducing 3G in 2006. Switching into 5G technology will encourage Sri Lankans to collaborate and create next generation IoT and ICT innovations and serve the country’s digital footprint.
Telecom companies such as Samsung Electronics, Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson in this regard have shown tremendous commitment towards transforming Sri Lanka’s telecommunication landscape with operators to make Sri Lanka ready for next industrial revolution that runs on digital platforms. Access to the right spectrum is required. Our Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRCSL) is a progressive regulator in terms of identifying technology as a key enabler of economic growth and connector of the rural masses. I believe once developed 5G technology alone could account for 10% of Sri Lanka’s entire GDP by 2025, and generate over at least one million more jobs for years to come, and collectively add $ 8 billion to $ 20 billion in economic value by 2030 to Sri Lanka’s GDP.
Q: So far only companies such as Huawei has shown success in developing 5G technology globally, do you think that Huawei equipment for 5G telecom infrastructure in Sri Lanka will be suitable?
Well, I must say in Sri Lanka we are more confident about companies such as Huawei who had invested in large to Sri Lanka’s telecommunication infrastructure helping operators of the country to move forward in technology transformation from 2G era to 3G, 4G and probably for 5G in years to come. Many in Sri Lanka enjoy the connection through operators who use Huawei equipment for Telecom infrastructure for more than 20 years now. Sri Lankans are a population that is concerned about their privacy and security for more than 30 years in their lifetime so far due to country facing a civil war that ended in 2009. So obviously our people use products based on trust and how such products keep them safe and privacy maintained.
On the other hand we as Sri Lanka’s Government always verify all the telecommunication equipment of vendors, and I confirm that Sri Lanka has not come across any security concerns with equipment vendors so far. Sri Lanka is confident to partner with Huawei as well as Samsung Electronics, Ericsson and Nokia for its 5G infrastructure in an open and transparent process in future. As a country Sri Lanka is yet to identify the candidate bands for 5G and make operators align with that program to drive the 5G agenda. Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRCSL) will soon identify the relevant bands for 5G to make sure the country is ready to unleash 5G technology.