Improved voice quality, enhanced data throughput and guaranteed network availability, will be the key drivers that will propel and enrich customer experience and make MTN the preferred network of choice for broadband services.
This is according to Krishna Chetty, acting chief technology officer of MTN South Africa, who says MTN’s customer retention strategy will be anchored on improving the quality of voice calls, augmenting data throughput, and ensuring network availability around the clock.
“Capacitating our network across a variety of applications does not only increase revenue, but it also improves consumer perception about network experience and contributes to a consistent customer experience,” says Chetty. To that end, he says MTN has set itself a target of decreasing the number of dropped calls on its network by up to half before the end of this year.
In addition, MTN has pledged to increase peak user speeds by up to 28% for 3G, and 108% on the LTE network.
“The attainment of this goal will bode well for MTN’s ambitions of being the network of choice for broadband services, and for the realisation of our vision of leading the delivery of a bold new digital world to our customers,” says Chetty.
He says MTN has already laid solid foundations for the achievement of these goals. Over the years, MTN has made significant investment for the rollout of its radio transmission and fibre networks.
Between 2010 and 2012, MTN added 1,320 fibre sites to its network, while in 2013, 2014 and 2015 MTN deployed an additional 858, 556 and 355 sites respectively. This year, MTN plans to add 611 new fibre sites to expand its significant fibre footprint event further.
MTN is part of the National Long Distance Consortium (NLD), a partnership that comprises numerous network operators and the South African National Road Agency Limited (SANRAL) whose goal is to erect a fibre grid connecting all major population centres within South Africa.
Chetty points out that MTN has completed NLD 1-4, which links the East and West coast undersea cables to Johannesburg, NLD 8, which provides capacity to the Polokwane region, and NLD 9-10, which is designed to provide additional capacity and redundancy for the National Transmission Network.
He adds that plans are in place to commence the construction of NLD 7, which connects Polokwane to Ladysmith, and NLD 5-6, which links Cape Town and Durban. Construction on the Polokwane-Ladysmith route is planned to begin during the course of this year and is expected to be completed in 2018 or 2019, while trenching for the Cape Town to East London route will start in 2017 and should be completed in 2019.
“These projects will provide unlimited bandwidth and high availability for the national core transmission network that connects to undersea cables SAT3, WACS, ACE, EASSy and SEACOM. The investment in these projects realises MTN’s strategy of building its own transmission network,” says Chetty.
MTN has embarked on an aggressive network rollout across all technology streams since the start of 2015, Chetty says. During this period, MTN increased its 2G nodes by 15%, and improved 3G coverage through a 340% increase in 3G U900 nodes, and a 45% increase in 3G U2100 nodes. MTN’s LTE network also grew significantly by increasing LTE nodes by 350%. This network rollout was funded by capital expenditure amounting to over R20 billion between 2014 and 2016.
Chetty says MTN has made provisions to minimise network disruptions during periods of unplanned power outages. In the last three years, MTN secured rectifier equipment, funded security upgrades at its sites, secured approximately 100 000 batteries to power the base stations and data centres during power disruptions, and procured about 1 000 generators to power its sites.
Chetty says MTN will continue to roll out new generation networks to meet increasing data traffic and enhance customer experience on its network. Two examples of this include: MTN partnering with Ericsson to conduct the first LTE-U trial in South Africa, and MTN teaming up with Huawei to launch South Africa’s first commercial trial for 4.5G in South Africa.
LTE-U makes use of Carrier Sensing Adaptive Transmission (CSAT) technology to avoid interfering with Wi-Fi networks, thereby allowing LTE-U and Wi-Fi to coexist within the 5GHz unlicensed band. MTN’s LTE-U trial with Ericsson was completed during April 2016, achieved downlink throughputs exceeding 200Mbps, and was performed at MTN’s flagship store in Morningside, Sandton.
MTN’s commercial trial for 4.5G achieved the first Gigabit per second mobile throughput recorded in South Africa via the aggregation of two unlicensed LTE 5GHz carriers (40MHz) with one licensed LTE 2100MHz carrier (15MHz). The trial utilized Huawei’s latest small cell Lamp-site solution, which supports LTE-Advanced three carrier aggregation, 4×4 evolved MIMO, and advanced 256 QAM modulation.
Despite the strides that MTN has achieved in optimising and capacitating its network, Chetty cites the unavailability of suitable spectrum, delays experienced in securing municipal approvals to install base stations, community resistance against site installations, slow progress on high site build, municipal approval and site acquisition for delivery of FTTx, and third party approvals and increasing rentals for microwave rollout as the challenges that continue to impede the acceleration of network deployment.