Where is mobile connectivity heading in Africa?
Mervyn Byleveldt, Solutions Sales Manager Africa, at Cradlepoint discusses 5G technology and what it means for the future of mobile connectivity in Africa.
The global 5G rollout has begun, with providers in the US and UK loudly announcing the first limited service availability. With many more countries expected to follow in 2020, it looks like it will be the technology’s breakthrough year across the major domestic markets in North America, Europe and Asia.
Cellular connectivity is a powerful force in the African economy and the future for its mobile industry is bright. MTN and Ericsson recently completed South Africa’s first demonstration of 5G technology – a live feed from a car in Pretoria. At long last, the continent is on the road to 5G. And despite national variations in readiness and progress, 5G is a global technology movement and we’re all on a pathway to general availability – sooner or later. Africa may be at the very start of this journey, but businesses can still use today’s mobile technologies to benefit from high-speed wireless connectivity.
The 4G success story – It’s not over yet
To understand that, we need to look towards 4G LTE networks. A global success story, 4G is a familiar and trusted technology that’s enabled people worldwide to work, relax and connect in ways that could not have been possible in the legacy 3G world. As mobile Internet speeds have increased, so too have the number of people adopting connectivity-driven smartphones. The number of smartphone connections in Africa is forecast to double from 315 million to 636 million by 2022 – twice the projected number in North America and close to the the European total. At the same time, mobile data traffic across the continent is predicted to increase seven fold.
While 5G has been capturing recent media attention, 4G LTE has been steadily evolving to connect faster than ever before. It has played a pivotal role in creating entirely new digital industries, such as social media, while providing the likes of Uber with the means to disrupt traditional markets. Demmand for mobile Internet connectivity has has soared in Africa over recent years and has been central to the development of many iindustrires, including Africa’s financial services sector. Thanks to 4G, there are more than 122 million active users of mobile financial services in Africa – now the global leader in mobile money. Sudhir Juggernath, head of Orange Applications for Business, Africa, recently explained that the quick transition from 3G to 4G was a direct consequence of the increasing demand for mobile data, as “fibre and other forms of connectivity are limited or non-existent in major parts on the African Contintent.” Juggernath conceded, however, that “South Africa will only leverage the 5G network in the next two to three years.”
But before 5G arrives on the African continent, development in 4G will continue apace. The speed and coverage of 4G networks in South Africa is fast increasing, with the country’s fastest 4G mobile network operator, Vodacom, recently exceeding 80% population coverage. The next stage will see the high-performance, Gigabit-Class form of 4G LTE come to market, offering theoretical speeds – as its name suggests – of up to 1 gigabit per second. Gigabit-Class LTE leverages many of the same technologies that are forming the foundation of 5G, and in countries where Gigabit LTE is already available, carriers such as AT&T in the US have looked to capitalise on its impressive performance by branding their upgraded Gigabit-Class LTE network as ‘5G Evolution’ or ‘5GE’.
But, putting those complexities to one side, it’s more immediately relevant to examine what Gigabit-Class LTE can offer, because it will arrive on the African continent much sooner than 5G. The simple message is it will allow organisations to extend the reach, reliability, and speed of their enterprise branch networks, while avoiding the challenges of traditional wired connections. At its core, Gigabit-Class LTE will deliver as much as 80% of the value of 5G – and far sooner.
Dispelling traditional fears
The key tenant for many businesses in moving more of their operations from wired to mobile connectivity options is the availability of unlimited, ‘no overage’ data plans. These data plans are beginning to appear on the South African market, and in other countries have represented the ‘missing link’ for many organisations that have been thinking about replacing wired access links for wireless at their branch locations. LTE has already carved a valuable role as the go-to connection for failover and Day-1 connectivity, but once historical fears associated with expensive overage charges are dispelled, it becomes a viable option for primary WAN connectivity. ‘Cutting the cord’ means business can work with just one or two wireless providers – significantly reducing compexity whiel at the same time delivering a huge improvement in WAN uptime. In South Africa, where businesses of all sizes have struggled with a variety of issues frustrating the availability of reliable wired connectivity, this is a game changer.
On the road to a wireless future
If we look back at what history tells us about the emergence of wireless technologies; whenever the performance and economics of wireless converge with a wired alternative, wireless always wins. That moment is about to arrive in the Wide Area Networking (WAN) space. It’s a pattern that repeats; in many households and businesses, cordless phones have pretty much killed off corded ones, and for many the home phone has been replaced altogether by a mobile. More recently, wireless speakers and Bluetooth headsets have been displacing the traditional and more awkward wired options. And, in the office and public spaces, wireless LANs usurped wired Ethernet more than a decade ago.
What this indicates is that when it arrives, 5G will deliver the biggest communications transformation since the Internet. But on this somewhat drawn-out journey to a faster future, the availability of Gigabit-Class LTE will deliver much of the value that most enterprises want today – a high performance and widely available wireless connection.
For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.
NetNumber: Time for a cloud-native transformation
NetNumber is accelerating the transition in the telecom industry to 5G as it starts a shift to cloud-native architecture to address the fast-paced demands of global subscribers and businesses.
NetNumber is offering the industry’s first cloud-native platform designed to ensure InterGENerational™ network performance addresses both the legacy and next-generation requirements of telecom networks.
“NetNumber has developed the industry’s most robust cloud-native, InterGENerational platform that addresses both the legacy and 5G requirements of telcos,” said Matt Rosenberg, Chief Revenue Officer of NetNumber.
The platform provides vertical and horizontal scale-out with low latency, coupled with a suite of data replication capabilities, which provide flexible architectural options that can evolve with the changing network over time.
“Cloud-based solutions from other vendors tend to be limited in terms of supporting particular network generations or protocols. We’ve created our latest platform TITAN.IUM to allow customers to take any generation of applications, any generation of legacy services and protocols and move them into the new world of cloud-native architecture,” said Rosenberg.
“This is a really important part for a carrier to harmonise their network, bring data services together, bring legacy with new together in order to make a more effective and efficient network, as well as reduce their cost as they scale forward,” he said.
Established in 1999, NetNumber has fostered a strong team environment that leverages the industry’s best skills to offer software solutions tailored for carriers of all dimensions. Based outside of Boston and with presence in over 20 countries, the company delivers a range of products that address all generations (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G) of network functions in the core network, deep rooted security products and services, STIR/ SHAKEN and set of options around data services in more than 90 countries.
Steeped in experience in building telecom solutions, software, protocol stacks, and integration of third party tools, the company’s development organisation has proven to supply to the industry with the most reliable and flexible solutions on the market.
“At NetNumber, we focus on our core competencies – we are dedicated to providing industry expertise in signaling, routing, security, subscriber management and data services. We provide customers a strong ROI through platform-based solutions that reduce Capex and Opex in the long-term,” commented Rosenberg.
Five reasons why customers choose NetNumber:
- Expertise - NetNumber has experts with deep knowledge in signaling/routing, security, and subscriber database management.
- Integration - An industry-first platform brings together domain services, applications, security, and global data services.
- Scale - NetNumber has the ability to seamlessly increase network efficiency using vertical and horizontal scaling.
- Speed - World-class solutions have the power to help companies create new service offerings and accelerate time to ROI.
- Savings - Customers enjoy significant savings in capex and opex, flexible deployment models, and investment protection.
NetNumber and Virgin Mobile MEA
“We're very proud of our partnership with Virgin Mobile MEA as they've taken the concept of the InterGENerational platform into their regional network strategy,” commented Rosenberg. “That’s accelerated how they develop exceptional services across the Middle East and Africa region.
“We work with them hand-in-hand to deliver multiple applications onto our platform which has enabled them to provide exceptional, advanced and innovative services to their customers across the Middle East, who demand high quality services.
“What they've really taken advantage of is scale. What I mean by that is they are putting multiple generations of applications and services onto the same platform and distributing that data across their network. That has resulted in an advantageous position of time to market and operational savings.
“Rather than having different applications for many different vendors that cause operational chaos, they've been able to consolidate that and reduce their operating costs by having everything on one common architecture. We’ve had a long-term relationship with Virgin Mobile in Saudi Arabia, and recently signed an agreement with Virgin Mobile in Kuwait.”
Rosenberg says that with these solutions, Virgin Mobile MEA can take advantage of getting to the market much quicker and faster—which is what today’s discerning customer demands.