MTN is beefing up its enterprise services portfolio by adding Software-Defined Wide-Area Network (SD-WAN) capabilities to its infrastructure and deploying narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) technology at thousands of sites across South Africa.
MTN has pumped more than R40 billion ($2.9 billion) into its network infrastructure during the past four years and that has provided the operator with a platform on which it can develop and roll out additional services, according to MTN's chief technology and information officer (CTIO) Giovanni Chiarelli.
"Technology advancement is an important part of our business and the numbers we are looking at investing in the next few years are in the same ballpark as what we have spent in the past. Not many companies in South Africa or on the continent are investing as much as we do in technology today. We are very serious about technology excellence as the catalyst that helps deliver exceptional solutions for our customers, stated Chiarelli in a company press release.
In the 2019 financial year MTN South Africa is planning capital expenditure (capex) of R8.9 billion ($640 million). In the year ended December 31, 2018, the telco spent R9.5 billion ($680 million) on capex and R11.5 billion ($830 million) the year before that.
Now MTN is layering services on top of that upgraded infrastructure. SD-WAN enables enterprises to cost-effectively hook up branch offices to the rest of their corporate resources, including data centers, wherever they are (as long as they have Internet connectivity). For MTN, all that is needed to offer this is a SD-WAN platform that can manage the multiple branches of an enterprise as one virtual, programmable network: For enterprise users, all that is needed is a server installed at each branch that acts as the SD-WAN node there is no need for an expensive, dedicated data connection as the SD-WAN software can run over public Internet connections while still offering quality of service through automated, application-centric bandwidth prioritization functionality.
MTN says companies comprising many broadly distributed locations often face operational complexities, including network challenges, data transmission delays and service outages. According to the operator, its SD-WAN service will counter these constraints by allowing companies to extend their IT networks across all their locations and interconnect all of their branches, as well as delivering, managing and updating enterprise applications and services.
"SD-WAN is one of the new ways of building resilient enterprise networks. The decision to take this route is a response to increasing demand from some of our customers who called on us to build high performing networks that can support their IoT ambitions and digitization journey," states Chiarelli in the press release.
"The SD-WAN network gives us an opportunity to orchestrate and balance the cloud services our clients buy from different suppliers," Chiarelli adds.
Building on existing assets
NB-IoT, meanwhile, is a standards-based Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology that uses licensed spectrum to connect IoT devices in range of a mobile network. MTN SA says it plans to enable each of its network sites with NB-IoT technology -- not just those in densely populated areas.
All our sites will be enabled with NB-IoT in the lowest possible frequency to give the broadest coverage. We expect to have the full dispersion of NB-IoT on our entire network footprint, states Chiarelli.
MTN's CTIO Giovanni Chiarelli says the operator is adding narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) capabilities to sites all across South Africa, not just in urban areas.
MTN also used the press release to outline its existing enterprise connectivity options: The operators says its microwave wireless network in South Africa serves approximately 71% of businesses, while its fiber to the business (FTTB) network spans over 18,000 kilometers and has a capacity to serve more than 30% of the country's business community. In addition, MTN SA has eight data centers and 30 regional data centers.
"Our network needs to move to new generation to support 5G capabilities on the one hand, and to support additional spectrum bands that will hopefully be assigned soon. Spectrum allocation is crucial to provide us with capacity so that we can cater to increasing demands on our 4G network which is doubling each year. Without additional spectrum, we will be constrained in our ability to support our enterprise clients with new technologies, notes Chiarelli in the release.
The MTN Group operates in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East and as of March 31, 2019 had 236.6 million subscribers across its operations.
The Staff, Connecting Africa