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MTN, Microsoft trial 5G in cloud

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Pan-African mobile network operator, MTN, says it has conducted a proof-of-concept for "a first-of-its-kind" 5G standalone core which has been deployed via cloud computing platform, Microsoft Azure.

MTN said it is working with Microsoft to accelerate digital and cloud transformation to help drive Africa's growth.

The project allowed MTN to experience the benefits associated with deploying a core network in Azure including fast deployment time (days vs. months) and ease of scale.

"The learnings drive a paradigm shift in network planning considering sustainability, commercial models, automation and disaster recovery," the two companies said in a statement.

"Being one of the first in the world to conduct this proof-of-concept demonstrates MTN's desire to keep pushing the boundaries of technological innovation that delivers value to our shareholders," said Amith Maharaj, MTN Group chief technology officer.

5G has the ability to transform business and livelihoods beyond simple connectivity in Africa. The key lies in the ultra-fast end-to-end communication capacity it enables. It will enable many industries such as education, healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, agriculture and mining to be more efficient.

MTN Group is ramping up its rollout of 5G sites targeting a population coverage of 10% - 30% in the medium term, across the 17 markets it operates in across Africa and the Middle East.

"Microsoft is equipping industry leaders with ubiquitous computing power to help them realize the potential of 5G networks. With Azure, MTN can enrich its digital capabilities and enable organizations across industries to bring modern high-performance applications to their customers faster," said Tad Brockway, corporate VP for Azure for operators at Microsoft.

MTN launched its 5G network in South Africa in June 2020.

The proof-of-concept was conducted using 5G standalone core elements including control plane, user plane and management nodes, deployed fully in the South Africa Azure Region.

Microsoft Azure became the first cloud hyperscaler to launch services in South Africa in March 2019, when it rolled out its first data centers in Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Microsoft Azure was the first major cloud player to launch data in South Africa in March 2019.   (Source: rawpixel.com on Freepik).
Microsoft Azure was the first major cloud player to launch data in South Africa in March 2019.
(Source: rawpixel.com on Freepik).

It was followed by the likes of Amazon Web Services (AWS) which launched its Africa Region in Cape Town in April 2020 while Google announced it was launching a Google Cloud region in South Africa in October 2022.

Accelerating the growth of mobile & digital services

In a separate announcement on Monday, MTN's wholesale arm, MTN GlobalConnect announced the renewal of a partnership with BICS to accelerate the growth of mobile and digital services in Africa, including roaming, cloud communications, and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity.

MTN GlobalConnect – a pan-African digital wholesale and infrastructure services company – and BICS – an international digital communications platform business – plan to extend affordable international communication across Africa.

"It's important that we form strong partnerships to provide MTN's 289 million subscribers with seamless digital services for ease of connectivity and collaboration around the world," said Frédéric Schepens, MTN GlobalConnect CEO.

"As a strong partner, the evolution of the connectivity relationship between MTN GlobalConnect and BICS will support the growth of digital services in Africa and allow our business to continue to invest in cutting edge technologies such as 5G," he added.

According to GSMA, by the end of the decade, there will be more than 340 million 5G connections in Africa.

The partnership reinforces both organizations' cloud communications, roaming, and IoT ambitions. It will accelerate the digital transformation of communication services across Africa, particularly focused on the trust and authenticity of each interaction and dialogue, the groups said.

"BICS' mission is to create opportunities by connecting communities," said Matteo Gatta, BICS CEO. "Over the next few years, MTN GlobalConnect together with its partners will actively contribute to the expansion of connectivity that will drive digital services across Africa."

In early 2021, MTN agreed to sell its 20% stake in carrier business BICS for R1.8 billion (US$121 million at the time).

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*Top image source: Image by macrovector on Freepik.

— The Staff, Connecting Africa

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