In Egypt last month at the head of a delegation including 20 Russian companies, Russian Minister of Digital Development, Communications and Information Konstantin Noskov signed a number of cooperation agreements with his Egyptian counterparts in the field of information technology (ICT).
He spoke about the stakes involved in an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly.
What were the agreements finalised during your visit to Cairo?
In 2016, the Ministry of Telecoms and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on cooperation in telecommunications, postal communication, and information technology with the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT).
During the visit to Egypt we discussed how to put it into practice. In particular, the MoU provides for the sharing of experiences and information between companies, government bodies, scientific centres and institutions. We are prioritising certain projects like the establishment and management of technological parks, the implementation of e-government technology, and the more efficient use of the radio spectrum, especially with regard to the transfer to 5G networks.
What does Russia offer to Egypt in the field of business solutions in ICT?
Our Egyptian partners are interested in many of our solutions. For example, the Russian company Inoventica plans to offer its invGuard product, a system of network traffic-monitoring and analysis capable of detecting and mitigating cyber-attacks in the Egyptian market. Another company, Protei, is glad to offer Egypt solutions for e-government, mobile networks and MVNO operators, as well as for high-speed Internet development.
Noviy Disk offers interactive and multimedia learning courses for students that cover all subjects from physics to biology, literature and the visual arts. The Speech Technology Centre offers systems in multimodal biometry, voice simulation and recognition, and audio and video processing and analysis. These are just a few examples, and Russia has many more ICT solutions to offer to Egypt.
How do you assess the strength of Egyptian tech companies? How can Russia benefit from them?
In Egypt, the innovative IT park Smart Village really impressed me, and it deserves to be called the Egyptian Silicon Valley. We visited the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), the Information Technology Institute (ITI), the Egyptian National Computer Emergency Response Team (EGCERT) and the Telecom Egypt Headquarters.
After the visits, I became convinced that Egypt has been actively working to digitise its economy. You have particularly succeeded in improving the quality of IT education and promotion and start-up support. There is no doubt that Russian-Egyptian cooperation in ICT will be both mutually beneficial and productive.
What about the status of Russian tech companies at the international level?
We have accumulated enormous experience in information security and solutions for operators and other software products. Many of them are highly competitive with world-leading products in terms of quality, and in many cases our products are better and more affordable. Moreover, Russia has a full set of domestic products alternative to western ones, such as search engines, office software, mobile operating systems, antivirus software, and many more. Our solutions will be very attractive to Egyptian government agencies and companies.
In December 2018 Russia switched to digital broadcasting. Can you tell us more about this?
Since December 2018 Russia has been implementing the switchover from analogue to digital television broadcasting. More than 5,000 digital television facilities were built and more than 10,000 transmitters installed. The digital switchover is carried out in stages by groups of regions. About a third of the population has already switched (almost 50 million people); the rest will complete the switch on 3 June. Russia is the world leader in terms of the area covered by digital broadcasting.
Why is this necessary? Digital television is less expensive and has higher quality compared to analogue. It allows for transmitting video in full HD format with better sound and interference-free, and it also provides access to more services. In addition, a large portion of the spectrum previously occupied by an analogue signal is made available.
When will Russia launch 5G technology?
Russia is implementing 12 large national projects at the moment as part of strategic planning in our country for development up until 2024. I am the lead of one of the national projects, called the “Digital Economy of the Russian Federation”. This project specifically aims to implement 5G technology, and this year we have approved the establishment and development of 5G networks and allocating frequencies to them. In 2020, the phased introduction of these networks in large cities will begin. At the same time, this technology is already being tested in pilot zones.
You use Russian search engines and applications rather than internationally known ones like Google. Can you tell us more about these alternative applications?
Russia has a wide range of highly competitive products, including search engines and social networks. In the Russian Internet arena of about 300 million users, Russian search engines and social networks are much more popular than internationally known ones like Google, Facebook or Instagram. The same is true for various other services, such as taxis and food delivery services. They often emerged and developed concurrently with their Western counterparts (and sometimes even earlier), and they were not created as a response. I am convinced that in the modern world it is dangerous to be dependent on one manufacturer and one set of products. An alternative is a matter of network independence and, as practice shows, even of national security.
Do you believe that these applications can reach other markets?
Russian Internet services and applications like Yandex, VKontakte and others are actively used not only in Russia, but also throughout the territory of the former Soviet Union and other Russian-speaking countries. Many Russian services are also entering the markets of foreign countries. For example, an online taxi service called YandexTaxi has already been introduced in Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Serbia. Yandex is also very popular in Turkey. My colleagues from other countries have welcomed the arrival of Russian services in new markets, and they are even asking for this to be facilitated.
However, all these popular services belong to private companies, so unfortunately or fortunately I have no control over their spheres of interest. But I maintain constant dialogue with the company leaders. I hope that in the near future we will see Russian applications among the most popular Egyptian services.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Russian ICT solutions for Egypt