South Africa must create a telecommunication ecosystem that drives competition and access while building a new generation of innovators that continue to break down barriers, according to MTN.
Chief technology and information officer at MTN SA, Giovanni Chiarelli, told the audience at the MyBroadband Conference & Expo at the Gallagher Convention Centre last week that while the combination of device, cloud, network and services form an “astoundingly powerful virtuous quartet for innovation”, SA’s economy will be left behind if additional frequency for expansion is not made available urgently.
Other factors affecting data pricing and therefore data usage in SA include cost factors like electricity, tax and theft; exchange rate volatility; and regulation.
“Technology needs to provide a platform for South African innovation and these bottlenecks to growth need to be cleared. African solutions for African problems must be found, and to drive this innovation we need an ecosystem that enables innovation. If we are to deliver the 4th industrial revolution, our industry must also avoid over-regulation that will stunt agility,” said Chiarelli.
The “virtuous quartet for innovation” of cloud, devices, network and services starts with access to data, yet South Africa is one of the most constrained countries in the world when it comes to assigning high demand spectrum.
“Without it we will not be able to truly embrace innovation and unlock previously untapped value chains. The world of technology will not wait for us and we cannot get left behind,” said Chiarelli.
A recent 5G demonstration at the Gerotek test track in Pretoria was used by MTN to show the audience at the conference the power of technology in providing enterprise solutions. In this test, a driver wore a virtual reality headset to control a large vehicle drifting around on a skidpan at high speed.
The windows of the vehicle were blacked out, but network latency of just five milliseconds ensured the driver was able to drift the car around the track without encountering any problems.
In another real-world network performance test MTN partnered with Huawei to conduct the first 5G outdoor trial in Africa. Huawei’s recently-launched commercial 5G terminal was used in conjunction with a 5G live network installation.
“A bold new world for enterprise innovation, efficiency and the delivery of services awaits, and we need to harness this to maximise efficiencies and opportunities to solve local problems. However, to succeed we need an ecosystem that enables innovation,” said Chiarelli.
MTN Cloud Connect Wireless, launched in 2018, is an example of how technology can provide solutions to problems currently being faced by businesses in SA.
By harnessing Point to MultiPoint microwave technology, small offices or remote branches of large enterprises can now achieve efficient, low-cost wireless access. Rural businesses, which will increasingly be the lifeblood of the economy going forward but face immense network constraints, are being given a new lease on life.
“The resulting infrastructure is covering 60% of businesses across SA today, and it is intended to grow above 75% in the near future,” said Chiarelli.
In the absence of spectrum, however, MTN’s push for rapid 3G and 4G coverage has come at a price – not only the R40 billion investment in the past few years but also the need to re-farm existing spectrum for 3G and LTE deployment.
MTN said it has therefore adopted a “dual data” strategy to drive the democratisation of access to data.
“Our goal is to continue to deliver high-capacity 4G in cities and broad 3G coverage in rural areas. Our new data customers will be in rural areas and they will buy smaller amounts of data – which is why we are focusing heavily on both extending our connectivity reach, while also transforming our pricing methodology to adapt to the changing and growing markets we seek to serve.
“In South Africa – we’ve been exceptionally aggressive in our capital investment to support our dual data strategy,” said Chiarelli.
The strategy has also seen MTN achieve successes. By August this year, its 4G coverage had reached 88% and by the end of 2018, it will achieve 90% LTE coverage for South Africa.
“This took us from 0-90% 4G coverage in just five years, which is even faster than the 3G rollout which took us from 0-90% in 10 years. Putting access to the internet in the hands of all South Africans has driven this relentless push,” said Chiarelli.