Telecoms: driving connectivity in Africa
In recent years, the rapid uptake of smartphones and the increase in data usage across Africa has led to an explosive demand for high quality voice services and data provision across the region. With a market as large as Africa’s, made up from many local and macro-trends that service providers need to address for their specific market, continent-wide connectivity has never been a top priority.
In some countries across Africa, the growth potential has been severely hampered by the underlying infrastructure, which is unable to offer full service provision to end-users. While the continent is getting more and more connected with the launch of several new submarine cables, both geographic and social problems, such as severe weather patterns and human intervention, have resulted in the fibre or submarine cabling to fail in some areas. Because of this, the first step to driving the communications market forward has been to install a cost-effective back-up solution to enable the continuous connectivity necessary to support further growth.
Satellite has emerged as the preferred back-up solution for Africa, as its capacity solutions provide a reliable back-up to operators concerned about disaster recovery and the stability of current capacity backhaul infrastructure. IP over Satellite (IPoSat) in particular can be quickly deployed to cover any problems with existing backhaul solutions and offer high speeds to support usage.
The flexibility of satellite solutions means that even when primary infrastructure is compromised or faces an outage, the solution is able to prioritise high value traffic, increasing bandwidth efficiency by blocking less critical, high bandwidth services such as online gaming and video streaming.
The term ‘high value’ includes voice related traffic, which remains a major source of revenue for operators across the continent. As with other regions across the globe, smartphone adoption is encouraging consumers to use alternative apps to access similar voice services. This has resulted in some regulators actually blocking certain communications apps, whilst in other countries it has been left to the operators to face this challenge through offering reduced tariffs to their customers.
It is in both operators and carriers’ best interests to protect voice revenue as it is such a lucrative stream of income. Therefore, there are tools available that encourage the use of these services and create competitive pricing structures.
Smartphone penetration across Africa hasn’t just led to an increase in competition for traditional communication services, it has also led to an increase in domestic data usage. Following a similar trajectory to other regions such as Europe, we anticipate that domestic usage will slowly spread to roaming usage. This is already being witnessed in some of Africa’s more developed markets where operators are focused on providing their enterprise and higher tier customers with high-speed data connectivity and international roaming services, both in neighbouring countries and to business destinations around the world.
Being able to analyse traffic and monitor the demands of end-users is imperative to giving operators greater control over their customers’ experience. Analytics platforms are the next step for innovative players looking to meet the demands of subscribers; whether it is providing connectivity across borders or improving the performance of the network which they are able to monitor in real time.
The demand for international bandwidth is also increasing in correlation with the popularity of smartphones. 3G coverage has now been launched in all countries but 2G connections are still used by a large majority in sub-Saharan Africa. 4G networks are picking up slowly with licences granted to new players, who have taken the opportunity to penetrate the market as internet service providers, offering high speed internet connectivity to compensate for the lack of digital subscriber lines.
Although the LTE market is undoubtedly growing following its success in other global locations, its provision across Africa is limited. However, once the initial networks have been launched, services such as VoLTE can be developed in a second phase.
This continuous development is driving the African telecoms market forward, moving from strength to strength as first the legacy services are enforced by robust satellite back-up in challenging areas, and then next generation services are introduced to encourage high value customer acquisition and retention. Being able to provide customers with low latency services for voice and data roaming traffic both within Africa and abroad has become key to guaranteeing satisfactory customer experience.
Africa has the potential to build on these impressive levels of growth, with subscribers hungry to use data-intensive services and operators vying to be the first to launch new revenue streams and cash-in on their customers’ demands. With a secure backbone, reinforced in case of outages by satellite, we expect to see great things over the next year in the region.
Clementine Fournier is the Regional Vice President for Africa at BICS, a telecoms service provider headquartered in Belgium.
GfK and VMware: Innovating together on hybrid cloud
GfK has been the global leader in data and analytics for more than 85 years, supplying its clients with optimised decision inputs.
In its capacity as a strategic and technical partner, VMware has been walking GfK along its digital transformation path for over a decade.
“We are a demanding and singularly dynamic customer, which is why a close partnership with VMware is integral to the success of everyone involved,” said Joerg Hesselink, Global Head of Infrastructure, GfK IT Services.
Four years ago, the Nuremberg-based researcher expanded its on-premises infrastructure by introducing VMware vRealize Automation. In doing so, it laid a solid foundation, resulting in a self-service hybrid-cloud environment.
By expanding on the basis of VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management, GfK has given itself a secure infrastructure and reliable operations by efficiently operating processes, policies, people and tools in both private and public cloud environments.
One important step for GfK involved migrating from multiple cloud providers to just a single one. The team chose VMware.
“VMware is the market leader for on-premises virtualisation and hybrid-cloud solutions, so it was only logical to tackle the next project for the future together,” says Hesselink.
Migration to the VMware-based environment was integrated into existing hardware simply and smoothly in April 2020. Going forward, GfK’s new hybrid cloud model will establish a harmonised core system complete with VMware Cloud on AWS, VMware Cloud Foundation with vRealize Cloud Management and a volume rising from an initial 500 VMs to a total of 4,000 VMs.
“We are modernising, protecting and scaling our applications with the world’s leading hybrid cloud solution: VMware Cloud on AWS, following VMware on Google Cloud Platform,” adds Hesselink.
The hybrid cloud-based infrastructure also empowers GfK to respond to new and future projects with astonishing agility: Resources can now be shifted quickly and easily from the private to the public cloud – without modifying the nature of interaction with the environment.
The gfknewron project is a good example – the company’s latest AI-powered product is based exclusively on public cloud technology. The consistency guaranteed by VMware Cloud on AWS eases the burden on both regular staff and the IT team. Better still, since the teams are already familiar with the VMware environment, the learning curve for upskilling is short.
One very important factor for the GfK was that VMware Cloud on AWS constituted an investment in future-proof technology that will stay relevant.
“The new cloud-based infrastructure comprising VMware Cloud on AWS and VMware Cloud Foundation forges a successful link between on-premises and cloud-based solutions,” says Hesselink. “That in turn enables GfK to efficiently develop its own modern applications and solutions.
“In market research, everything is data-driven. So, we need the best technological basis to efficiently process large volumes of data and consistently distill them into logical insights that genuinely benefit the client.
“We transform data and information into actionable knowledge that serves as a sustainable driver of business growth. VMware Cloud on AWS is an investment in a platform that helps us be well prepared for whatever the future may hold.”