MTN to launch OpenRAN in Africa

MTN Group is leveraging their expansive footprint across Africa to test and ultimately deploy OpenRAN – an innovative technology that will enable them to launch new services more quickly, cost-effectively and seamlessly, supporting their strategy, Ambition 2025: Leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress.

MTN plans to modernise their radio access networks using OpenRAN. This is in line with one of five vital enablers of the strategy: to build technology platforms that are second to none, thereby allowing for the rapid expansion of 4G and 5G population coverage across markets.

With up-to-date technology, the company can expect a reduction in the power consumption and associated carbon emissions. This, in turn, supports plans to decarbonise network and achieve net zero emissions by 2040, Project Zero.

OpenRAN allows for the disaggregation of hardware and software elements of a network, enabling telcos to build a network using components with the same specifications and scale from a diverse base of vendors. A disruptive trend, it is gaining popularity as the industry seeks to promote an open and interoperable ecosystem between various vendors.

MTN aims to roll this out by the end of 2021 in collaboration with their partners Altiostar, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, TechMahindra and Voyage.

As an early adopter, MTN first rolled out open-source technology in 2019 to improve rural coverage. This was in line with the belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. To date, MTN has deployed over 1 100 commercial sites in more than 11 countries.

For all mobile network operators, radio access network (RAN) makes up the bulk of capital and operating costs. By applying OpenRAN, MTN targets further innovation and cost efficiencies.

“At MTN we are alive to the potential of open interfaces. There is a lot of value that dominant players bring to the business, but telecommunications today is as much about the stability of the network as it is about new services,”

says MTN Group Chief Technology and Information Officer Charles Molapisi.

“Customers measure us against the speed with which we can deploy the latest technology and we are committed to finding faster and better ways to do that.”

The many benefits of OpenRAN include diversifying the vendor landscape, disrupting the cost flow, and removing dependencies on proprietary suppliers. It also promises cost savings and flexibility as it allows operators to use generic hardware and open interfaces. It enables a so-called ‘Lego architecture’ where many different vendors supply the components and software products that together make the end-to-end radio network work.

“While OpenRAN brings a new architecture to mobile networks and more suppliers to deal with, it gives telcos much-needed flexibility,”

says Amith Maharaj, MTN Group Executive: Network Planning and Design.

“This means that MTN can now look at building a network that can meet cost and capacity requirements of specific markets, or even rapidly deploy 5G and/or 4G seamlessly with existing legacy services. This is a real game-changer for mobile advancement in emerging markets.”

While the technology is still in its early days and widespread adoption is likely years away, MTN has already collaborated with a number of global players to reap the benefits and trigger innovation.

“Early adoption gives us the ability to improve and deploy appropriate network architecture underpinned by technology, both tried and tested, and disruptive, to ensure we continue to deliver an exceptional experience, and ultimately play our part in harnessing the power of technology to lead digital solutions for Africa’s progress,”

concludes Molapisi.

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