MTN to roll out OpenRAN in Africa this year

MTN this week became the latest major telco to commit to deploying OpenRAN technology, which it claims will be a “game-changer” in emerging markets.

The South African company, which has operations in around 20 markets in Africa and the Middle East, said it is working with vendor partners Altiostar, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Tech Mahindra and Voyage to roll out OpenRAN before the end of the year. However, the wording of its announcement suggests that a commercial launch could be further off.

“MTN Group is leveraging our expansive footprint across Africa to test and ultimately deploy OpenRAN,” the telco said. It also referred to the fact that the technology is still in its infancy and that widespread adoption is likely to be some years away.

It did not provide further details of which markets will be the first to get OpenRAN; its announcement is more statement of intent to deploy the technology than a detailed project plan. Nonetheless, it is clear that MTN sees the potential of OpenRAN across its footprint. It highlighted the usual benefits including vendor diversification, cost savings and flexibility, while noting that its network modernisation plans will help it to reach its previously announced target of zero carbon emissions by 2040.

“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,” said 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.”

MTN calls itself an early adopter, having first used open source technologies two years ago to improve coverage in rural areas; it has deployed 1,100 commercial sites in 11 countries during that time. It clearly sees OpenRAN as the next logical step.

“While OpenRAN brings a new architecture to mobile networks and more suppliers to deal with, it gives telcos much-needed flexibility,” said 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,” Maharaj added. “This is a real game-changer for mobile advancement in emerging markets.”

Of course, MTN is not the only operator in Africa looking to push ahead with OpenRAN. Orange shared plans to use the technology across its African footprint last summer, and earlier this year Etisalat signed an MoU with Rakuten to use its Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) to help it accelerate OpenRAN rollout.

The technology is gaining traction in markets worldwide, and Africa is no exception.

  • Mission Critical Technologies Africa

  • West Africa Com

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