Mobile network operators will play a crucial role in providing the infrastructure ecosystem that will enable other industries to harness the benefits of digitisation and implement new age solutions that will be brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Over recent decades, telecommunications companies have provided the basic building blocks that gave millions of people access to telecommunications services, access to broadband and later other value-added services such as financial services (mobile money).
Christopher Hopkirk, regional GM: Western Cape MTN Business, told delegates at the recent Enterprise Forum in Cape Town that mobile network operators will play a key role in helping other industries to unlock value from digitisation and enable them to tap into generation solutions such as artificial intelligence (AI) applications, immersive virtual realities, self-driving cars, remote medical surgery, holographic teleportation, drone deliveries, smart agriculture, connected cities and smart logistics.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents an exponential leap forward in science, technology and innovation, and promises to alter every aspect of our lives. However, high performance and scalable networks are a prerequisite for businesses, the public sector and even consumers to truly access and participate in the shift.
“The connectivity in this new era has expanded drastically – enterprise customers and the public sector now want connectivity in less accessible places like mines underground, in factories located in remote locations, or at far-flung construction sites, while consumer appliances like smart TVs, coffee machines, washing machines and so on have connectivity functionality.
“This increased traffic requires mobile network operators to roll out purpose-built networks such as LoRaWAN and NB-IoT networks, which provide seamless interoperability among smart things without the need for complex local installations, enable the roll out of IoT applications, provide long battery life for devices, have a wider deployment and gives improved reliability for users,” says Hopkirk .
According to forecasts by analyst firm Gartner, there will be 20,4-billion connected devices by 2020. This increase in connected devices will be mainly driven by process sensors and real-time location devices for enterprises, and vehicles, smart TVs and surveillance cameras for consumers.
To support this exponential increase in data traffic, Hopkirk told delegates that MTN has embarked on a massive, three-year project to modernise its entire network infrastructure across the country to support Internet of things (IoT) and prepare its network for the commercial rollout of 5G.
“This expansive network upgrade will lead to the entire radio and transmission network being updated to become NB-IoT compliant. This means that every site on our network will be upgraded to have the technical capabilities to support smart solutions that come with the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” says Hopkirk.
He adds that, although the network modernisation programme is looking at future-proofing MTN’s network, MTN has also invested more than R40 billion over the past four years to improve network coverage and quality to support the connectivity requirements of its customers.
“The results of this investment have not gone unnoticed as MTN’s network was ranked on successive occasions as the best network by independent reputable tests, including MyBroadband and P3. We have managed to increase our network footprint substantially in the past, and we are proud to say that our 4G network covers over 91% of the population, our 3G network 98% of the population, while 99% of the population is covered by our 2G network,” says Hopkirk.
Mindful of the expanding connectivity demands of enterprise customers in the digital era, Hopkirk says that MTN has built eight data centres and 30 regional data centres to support the connectivity requirements of its customers.
“Our microwave network can support 71% of businesses across the country, while our fibre to the business (FTTB) network can provision 30% of businesses. We have trenched and rolled out more than 18 000km of fibre across the country to support our enterprise customers.
As companies and organisations prepare to embrace the smart solutions that are brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we believe that we have built a compelling business case to support our enterprise customers and our network infrastructure which is unrivalled in South Africa. This stands us in good stead to become the partner of choice that will usher enterprises into this digital era,” says Hopkirk.
He adds that the network is fundamental to the success of the digital business.
“A large share of potential value stemming from digitalisation across industries over the next decade is dependent on the telecoms industry delivering essential infrastructure, applications and productivity improvements in many areas. Declining voice revenues, coupled with convergence, have compelled telecoms companies to change their business model. It has therefore become increasingly important for operators to look at new digital business models to make sure that they share in the value from digital transformation,” Hopkirk concludes.