Cell C has successfully migrated its core network to a world-class Huawei core switching network.
"Our new core network is fully 3G ready, aligned with 3G standards," says Cell C's CTO, Pierre Obeid. "Cell C is currently the only network in South Africa to deploy a combined 3G/2G network as opposed to two separate network layers – one for 2G and one for 3G. This means when Cell C makes the decision to offer 3G services, it will do so off a network that offers true converged services."
Cell C's core network may be state of the art, but Obeid says Cell C is careful about how it grows its infrastructure. "We don't commercially offer 3G services yet, but the new Huawei network allowed us to cope with the Woza Weekend offer (peak traffic on the network increased by 250%) in a more cost-effective way – something which will be very difficult for other cellular providers running off legacy networks," he says.
This careful approach, he adds, forms part of Cell C's decision to make the right technology choices at the right time with the intention of delivering value to the customer. Future services – 3G, 4G or Wimax services – will be influenced by subscriber need and economic viability. Obeid cites the "hype cycle" to make his point. "The early stages of introducing new technology are characterised by over-expectation and not the real customer need," he says. "The so-called technocrats initially buy into the new technology, which has largely been the case with regard to 3G until recently."
At the end of 2007, GSM statistics reported about 800-million 3G users worldwide. "The technology is becoming more affordable and handset prices are dropping, which means we are now moving into a space that is more viable from an economies-of-scale and efficiencies point of view," says Obeid.
Cell C is currently preparing its radio network evolution to provide 3G, HSDPA and LTE-type services.
"Our strategy for the rollout of the future radio evolution is in its final stages," he says. "3G is not only about the radio and core networks, but about the services we put on top of those. The services that are deployed on top of the infrastructural layer depend on the readiness of the back-end IT infrastructure. Our back-end architecture is aligned with Web 2.0 principles, and service-oriented architecture framework, critical for being able to provide compelling 3G services on top of a 3G network."
Obeid says the service-oriented architecture is a new architectural framework for the industry and allows Cell C increased flexibility and efficiency to be able to deploy new services using
"out-of-the-box tools" with minimal dependency on third-parties. "We maintain and control parts of the architecture that deliver value and outsource commodity tools, which are freely available off-the-shelf. It is the way we package them that is of value to the business and our customers," he says.
Technically, this means Cell C takes off-the-shelf products or software and exposes their capabilities to a consumption layer that it controls. This layer allows Cell C to orchestrate its processes as required, thereby changing the process sequence quickly and efficiently without having to redevelop the infrastructure and the system integration. "The sweet spot in this is being able to orchestrate any service on the fly," says Obeid.