OpenRAN is coming to Africa. Fittingly for such big news, it’s a very big name planning to launch the technology on the African continent: telecommunications giant MTN Group.
Not surprisingly MTN Group refers to leveraging its expansive footprint across Africa in its efforts to test, and ultimately deploy, OpenRAN; it is, after all, present in over 20 countries across Africa and the Middle East – most of them in Africa.
But why OpenRAN, a technology still (as MTN itself admits) in its early days? MTN says 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.
This is, therefore, partly about cost reduction. For all mobile network operators, the radio access network (RAN) makes up the bulk of capital and operating costs. By applying OpenRAN, MTN says it can target further innovation and cost efficiencies.
The company sums up OpenRAN as an innovative technology that will enable MTN to launch new services more quickly, cost-effectively and seamlessly, supporting a strategy called Ambition 2025.
MTN says it plans to modernise its radio access networks using OpenRAN in line with one of the five vital enablers of its strategy: to build technology platforms that are second to none, thereby allowing for the rapid expansion of 4G and 5G population coverage across its markets.
As well as saving money through OpenRAN, it also expects a reduction in power consumption and associated carbon emissions. This, in turn, supports MTN’s plans to decarbonise its network and achieve net zero emissions by 2040 (referred to as Project Zero).
As for timescales, MTN aims to roll out OpenRAN by the end of 2021 in collaboration with its partners Altiostar, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, TechMahindra and Voyage.
Interestingly, MTN agrees that widespread adoption of the technology is likely to be years away, but MTN also points out that it has already collaborated with a number of global players to, as it puts it, reap the benefits and trigger innovation. As part of efforts to drive OpenRAN standardisation, it is also participating in Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project.
Or, as MTN group chief technology and information officer Charles Molapisi puts it, “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.”