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Omdia View: February 2024

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In February 2024 some highlights from the telecoms industry in the Middle East and Africa included Airtel launching a new business focused on offering a range of wholesale connectivity services and MTN and Huawei announcing they will build a joint Innovation Technology Lab in South Africa to accelerate the development, deployment and adoption of innovative digital solutions across Africa.

Meanwhile, in Kenya Equitel launched Africa's first 5G mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service in partnership with Airtel Kenya, Orange and Free launched commercial 5G services in Senegal and Telecom Egypt and Ericsson conducted successful 5G trials in Egypt's new administrative capital.

Here are Omdia's latest Middle East and Africa highlights.

Airtel Africa launches optical fiber unit to drive broadband connectivity in Africa

— by Danson Njue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa markets.

On February 8, 2024, Airtel Africa Group (part of Bharti Airtel) launched Airtel Africa Telesonic Limited – a wholesale optical fiber unit that will leverage its terrestrial fiber assets and submarine cable systems to meet the growing demand for wholesale connectivity in Africa.

According to Airtel, Telesonic will leverage its over 75,000 kilometers of fiber across 14 markets in Africa to offer a range of products, including national and international line rental, dedicated Internet access, IP and IP transit services, and multi-protocol label switching (MPLS) services.

The group has invested in several submarine cable systems, including Google's Equiano and Meta's 2Africa, with 2Africa being the largest submarine cable interconnecting 33 countries across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

The launch of Telesonic Limited will not only enable Airtel to improve broadband connectivity in Africa but also unlock new revenue streams through new service offerings.

In December 2023, Airtel Africa also unveiled Nxtra by Airtel, a data center business aimed at meeting the demand for reliable and sustainable data center capacity in Africa, with a special focus on the enterprise segment.

Equitel launches Africa's first 5G MVNO service

— by Danson Njue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa markets.

Equitel, a Kenyan-based MVNO owned by Finserve Africa, launched a 5G service in partnership with Airtel Kenya, its host mobile network operator (MNO).

Through the launch, Equitel becomes the first MVNO in Africa to launch a 5G service offering.

The service is currently available in 370 locations across the country with plans to expand to more locations in the future. Airtel Kenya unveiled its 5G network in June 2023.

Equitel hopes to leverage the 5G service to enhance its service offering to its customers. The operator offers money transfer services via a mobile banking channel provided in partnership with Equity Bank.

Kenya had 509,737 5G subscriptions by the end of September 2023, accounting for 0.8% of total subscriptions, according to Omdia market data.

The number of 5G subscriptions will grow to 19.1 million with a market share of 23.4% by the end of 2028, supported by the growing demand for high-speed broadband connectivity in the country.

MTN Group and Huawei to open joint Innovation Technology Lab

— by Danson Njue, Omdia senior research analyst, Africa markets.

On February 28, 2024, at the MWC 2024 in Barcelona, Spain, MTN Group and Huawei Technologies signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to establish a joint Innovation Technology Lab at MTN Group's headquarters in South Africa.

It will serve as a neutral platform for collaboration within Africa's digital ecosystem and accelerate the development, deployment and adoption of innovative digital solutions across Africa.

The two companies will leverage the strategic partnership to focus their research and development (R&D) efforts on key thematic areas, including 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, Big Data analytics and digital financial services.

In addition, the partnership will accelerate the time-to-market of MTN Group's range of products and services while driving digital transformation and sustainable development across the continent.

Commenting on the partnership, MTN Group's CTIO Mazen Mroué said that the establishment of the joint Innovation Lab is an investment in the growth of Africa's digital ecosystem and is essential for developing solutions that meet the needs of the African continent.

Li Peng, Huawei's corporate senior VP and president of ICT Sales and Service, said that Huawei will continue innovating with MTN Group to develop products and solutions that will give the operator a competitive edge in terms of network quality, user experience and rapid deployment.

Huawei and MTN Group executives at an MoU signing ceremony at MWC 2024.
  (Source: MTN Group)
Huawei and MTN Group executives at an MoU signing ceremony at MWC 2024.
(Source: MTN Group)

Omdia believes that the partnership between MTN Group and Huawei is essential in supporting the digital transformation agenda across the African continent.

While African countries have made significant progress in developing digital ecosystems, the pace in the development of digital products and solutions remains slow due to several factors – key among them is the lack of expertise.

The establishment of a digital Innovation Technology Lab will accelerate R&D toward the development of digital products and services relevant for the African continent.

Orange and Free switch on 5G networks in Senegal

— by Thecla Mbongue, Omdia research manager for the Middle East and Africa.

Orange and Free have switched their 5G networks on in Senegal.

Both announcements were made during the first week of March 2024 and Orange and Free were issued 5G licenses in the third and fourth quarters of 2023 respectively.

The launches are expected to reinforce both the fixed wireless broadband and mobile segments. Orange is the fixed incumbent operator and a dominant player in both segments.

It is essential for competitors such as Free to provide services over technologies as advanced as those from Orange.

For now, both operators essentially market fixed 5G services. However, 5G mobile broadband is also available for smartphone users at no more than the price of 3G or 4G.

As in other African markets, mobile operators do ensure 5G-capable devices are in circulation in the market prior to the launch.

According to Omdia, Orange shared 57% of 23.5 million combined mobile and broadband subscriptions in 2023. Orange's share of the fixed broadband market was 98%.

Free and another competitor, Expresso, only shared 1% each.

Omdia forecasts Free's market share will grow to 10% by 2028. By that time, the country's fixed broadband market will have reached over 830,000 subscriptions.

Fiber will represent the largest usage with a 56% share, followed by fixed 5G at 28% and fixed LTE at 16%.

As both are in the mobile segment, 5G usage is expected to reach 4.4 million in 2028, representing 17% of all mobile subscriptions. The growth will be fueled by the expected decline in 5G smartphone prices, as well as mobile broadband pricing, which is usually technology-agnostic in Senegal.

Telecom Egypt and Ericsson trial 5G in Egypt's new administrative capital

— by Walaa Ibrahim, Omdia senior analyst for the Middle East and North Africa Service Provider Markets.

Telecom Egypt and Ericsson have successfully conducted a trial of 5G technology in Egypt's new administrative capital, covering various key locations. The trial used radios from the Ericsson Radio System and achieved maximum theoretical downlink throughput on the 2.6GHz spectrum.

Deploying a 5G NSA solution, the trial connected 4G/5G radios to Ericsson's Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and Unified Data Management (UDM). This collaboration aims to enhance network efficiency and bandwidth utilization for Telecom Egypt.

The trial sets the stage for Telecom Egypt to deliver high-performing indoor and outdoor 5G coverage, facilitated by Ericsson's 5G core and radio access network (RAN) solutions.

Furthermore, it lays the groundwork for digital transformation and artificial intelligence initiatives in the country.

Solutions by stc partners with Mavenir to launch Saudi Arabia's first commercial open-RAN network

— by Walaa Ibrahim, Omdia senior analyst for the Middle East and North Africa Service Provider Markets.

Solutions by stc, the technology solutions arm of Saudi Telecommunication Company (stc), has announced an agreement with Mavenir, a leading provider of cloud-native network infrastructure.

This collaboration aims to introduce the first commercial open RAN network in Saudi Arabia, aligning with stc's strategic mission to bring advanced technology to the kingdom's mobile customers and support the digital transformation strategy of Vision 2030.

The agreement sets the stage for the commercial launch of the next-generation open RAN network in 2024. This decision follows a successful initial deployment of a multilayered 4G and 5G non-standalone (NSA) access network on the open RAN platform, facilitated through the partnership between solutions by stc and Mavenir.

The newly launched network will feature a multi-layered architecture incorporating Mavenir's 4G remote radio unit (RRU) and 5G massive MIMO (mMIMO) active antenna unit (AAU) technology.

It will also leverage Mavenir's cloud-native Webscale Platform (MWP), comprising fully containerized centralized unit (CU) and distributed unit (DU) software running on x86 commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware.

In collaboration with Solutions by stc, Mavenir will provide a cloud-native deployment solution to stc, integrating professional services with cutting-edge hardware and software into stc's radio network. This initiative aims to enhance network capabilities and deliver advanced services to mobile users across Saudi Arabia.

You can find Omdia's full Middle East & Africa News Digest here.

For more information about Omdia's consulting capabilities, contact them directly at [email protected] or reach out to the Omdia analysts by emailing [email protected].

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*Top image source: Informa Tech.

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