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5G: MTN taps OpenRAN as African ‘early adopter’

5G: MTN taps OpenRAN as African ‘early adopter’
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MTN Group is becoming an African early adopter of OpenRAN network technology to quickly roll out network services, including 5G, the mobile phone giant says.

Among several benefits, OpenRAN will let MTN roll out services like 5G on its legacy network across its African footprints, which includes Nigeria, where it owns the largest mobile phone company in the country, MTN Nigeria.

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

5G: MTN taps OpenRAN as African ‘early adopter’
People seen taking selfies on a mobile phone at an event in Lagos. MTN plans to roll out 5G across its African units, including Nigeria.

MTN: OpenRAN, part of five enablers strategy

“We plan to modernise our radio access networks using OpenRAN. This is in line with one of five vital enablers of our strategy: to build technology platforms that are second to none, thereby allowing for the rapid expansion of 4G and 5G population coverage across our markets”, Charles Molapisi, Chief Technology and Information Officer, MTN Group says.

OpenRAN will let MTN roll out services like 5G on its legacy network across its African footprints, which includes Nigeria, where it owns the largest mobile phone company in the country, MTN Nigeria.

Charles Molapisi, Chief Technology and Information Officer, MTN Group

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

According to him, the OpenRAN technology standard “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.”

According to him, “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.”

MTN expects that with up-to-date technology, “we can expect a reduction in our power consumption and associated carbon emissions. This, in turn, supports our plans to decarbonise our network and achieve net zero emissions by 2040, our Project Zero.”

OpenRAN: The African early adopter’s edge for MTN Group

As an early adopter, “MTN first rolled out open-source technology in 2019 to improve rural coverage. This was in line with our belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life. To date, we have deployed over 1 100 commercial sites in more than 11 countries and were among the pioneers of open-source adoption, facilitating cost-effective deployment in unconnected areas”, Molapisi says. 

While the technology is still in its early days and widespread adoption is likely years away, MTN says it has collaborated with a number of global players to reap the benefits and trigger innovation. In efforts to drive OpenRAN standardisation, the phone group is also participating in Facebook’s Telecom Infra Project.

“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,”, Molapisi says.

MTN sees many benefits coming out of its OpenRAN adoption, including “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.”

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