Arm is launching the Arm (E3)NGAGE lab focused on engaging, educating, and cultivating local technology ecosystems. Programs and initiatives will also seek to catalyse startups and developer communities in the region.

By Stephen Ozoigbo, senior director: business development, emerging economies at Arm

Digital technologies will have a profound impact on the way we live in the coming decade with the most far-reaching changes taking in the emerging economies in Africa and Latin America. Forward-looking strategies across these regions are geared towards participation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution with an emphasis on artificial intelligence, cloud computing, robotics, and advanced wireless technologies.

Establishing a thriving digital ecosystem, however, remains a work in progress: existing grids and communication networks are often stressed. Rural communities often remain digitally isolated. Even in established business corridors, adoption of the latest technology can lag: Africa accounts for less than 1% of the cloud services markets, according to Xalam Analytics. Just as importantly, we need to close the knowledge gap.

The pilot (E3)NGAGE lab is being launched in partnership with the Cortex Hub, a regional technology incubator located in East London, Africa’s automotive capital. Other participants include the National Integrated, Cyberinfrastructure System of South Africa, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, and numerous Arm hardware and software partners. The lessons learned here will then serve as a blueprint for opening centers elsewhere in Latin America and Africa.

The long-term impact of the (E3)NGAGE lab model across targeted ecosystems includes an increase in the awareness and prominence of Arm’s technologies, capacity, and ecosystem capabilities. Within the Cortex Hub, some of the targeted projects and services include:

* Robotics Lab. Leveraging our relationship with Microbit and the first African Arduino Inspiration Lab, the Build With Arm program will focus on K-12 Learners in South Africa using the training and curriculum resources of the Arm School Program and Arm Education.

* Electronics Hardware Lab. Arm will support the current activities of the Cortex Hub Electronics Hardware lab by providing workshops, demos, and ecosystem training events that leverage Arm based tools and resources. The Electronics Hardware Lab will also provide opportunities for ecosystem partners like Arduino, Edge Impulse and Spark Fun to interact with developers and startups.

* The (E3)NGAGE Learning Challenge, the lab will expand ecosystem awareness of Arm based MCUs and encourage the development of local solutions. We will also encourage startups and prepare training platforms to familiarize developers with Arm tools, resources, and libraries such as Keil MDK Community Edition and Mobile Studio.

* Bare Metal as a Service Lab. Arm will leverage the infrastructure support activities of the Cortex Hub Bare Metal as a Service Lab to demonstrate and promote proof-of-concept set ups for our Infrastructure line of business and support local versions of innovative projects like the Mini Nodes project.

* Automotive Lab. Arm-led initiatives like Autoware and research-focused development activities will seek to catalyze regional automotive/IoT led innovations built on Arm. The lab is also equipped to support projects and demos to highlight local V2X, telematics and location-based services.

* Sustainability. The lab will also spotlight Arm led sustainability programs and partnerships, while building local stakeholder networks that are developing needed solutions that address regional problems.

Cost, culture and channel strategy

What makes a product for Africa or Latin America different than those developed for North America or Japan?

Cost is, of course, an inescapable factor. Manufacturers such as Celkon, Karbonn, and Transsion have succeeded by inventing ways to include higher-end features while lowering the price. Some have also shifted manufacturing to Ethiopia and Kenya. Ultra-Low-Cost smartphones based on our Total Compute processor design philosophies will further help expand the market by lowering the bill of materials.

Localising features, however, is equally as important. Take Transsion, the number one smartphone company in Africa through its brands Techno, Itel and Infinix. Some Techno phones support up to four SIM cards, allowing customers to save money and capitalise on variations in coverage strength over different networks. It also leads in offering keyboards in Hausa and other African languages. The company also notes it beat Google in leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) for better photo quality and facial recognition for African faces.

Similarly, carriers are working on ways to upgrade their infrastructures for greater efficiency and greater amounts of traffic. MTN, the South African carrier that provides service across the continent, has already added 1 100 sites built with Open RAN technology to its networks. It is also experimenting with AI to reduce power consumption at its 20,000 plus substations across the continent.

Channel strategy can be another differentiator. Just as cellular carriers used “free” phones to gain traction in the US, innovative channel ideas such as bundling solar and smartphone subscriptions or no-interest layaway plans have become vehicles for reducing transaction costs.

Meanwhile, others are building products to better navigate existing circumstances. Cape Town’s MediaBox is developing an inexpensive portable set-top box that lets consumers take and view content wherever. In countries where bandwidth is often constrained, it changes the TV experience.

An export opportunity

Creating a path from concept to commercial deployment for digital technologies in these regions is one of the largest economic opportunities of our time. GSMA estimates that mobile technologies alone could generate $155-billion in economic value by 2025.

East London’s expertise in auto technology, combined with the chronic traffic problems of cities like Lagos, makes it a potential hub for the development of V2X technologies for improving safety and traffic management. One could also imagine Latin America and Africa becoming test beds for using mid-band 5G for fixed wireless access as existing incumbent technologies aren’t as pervasive or edge technologies.

Forging this path is also a moral imperative. In these regions, technology can make a difference for the better. For both reasons, Arm will be there.

Editor@tech-talk.co.za