Apathy killing off interest in govt datacentres

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Apathy hovers over
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Thursday, Feb 27th

MTN vows to improve network in 2017

MTN vows to improve network in 2017

MTN has committed to improving its network quality, data speeds and coverage across SA, according to MTN group CTIO, Babak Fouladi, who was speaking to journalists at a media briefing in Johannesburg.

He says MTN SA has doubled LTE throughput speeds in the last 18 months and rolled out an additional 4 500 LTE sites in all the main cities across the country. The group's ongoing strategy is to focus on major cities and high-density areas such as malls, as well as along freeways and national roads.

In addition, MTN SA also improved its 3G coverage by deploying an additional 2 400 3G sites, and expanded its fibre network footprint by rolling out 900 new fibre-to-site connections. It also installed a further 1 300 physical sites to its network.

"Rural coverage was also improved during this period, when the U900 spectrum was layered on top of the U2100 to improve coverage," MTN says.

The network upgrades focused mainly on improving voice quality and upload and download speeds, and comprised continuous monthly drive tests to assess network quality and coverage.

"Transforming customer experience is one of the key strategic objectives that MTN has set out to achieve, and we believe that a seamless and high-performing network remains a prerequisite that customer-centricity is anchored on," says Fouladi.

"We have made substantial investments in stabilising our network by managing technology, power and infrastructure more efficiently, deploying targeted design principles that are focused on customer experience and ensuring stable network uptime with high quality."

Fouladi says MTN SA spent about R11 billion on capex in 2015 and just over R4.7 billion in the first half of 2016. In May, MTN SA CEO Mteto Nyati said the company would invest R12 billion in the financial year to improve voice, data and fixed broadband experience for customers.

Fouladi says next year's capex allocation will probably not be as high as it has been for the past two years, but "will still be quite substantial".

Spectrum squeeze

Fouladi also reiterated MTN's position on speedy allocation of 700MHz, 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum, saying delays experienced in the allocation of high frequency spectrum are hampering the operator's ability to roll-out new-generation networks and build networks that cater to growing data demands.

"The 700/800 [Mhz] spectrum is most suitable for rural roll-out; it is pivotal that we bring telecommunications coverage into rural areas, especially to the previously disadvantaged communities," he says.

The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) was forced to put a planned spectrum auction on ice, after the North Gauteng High Court interdicted it from continuing with its process in September. The court case was brought against ICASA by telecommunications and postal services minister Siyabonga Cwele, who soon after published the long-awaited National Integrated ICT Policy whitepaper, which calls for spectrum to be allocated through a wireless open access network (WOAN).

"The exponential growth in data consumption due to the rapid adoption of smart devices has not been supported and complemented by the allocation of requisite spectrum to support these services. Delays in expediting the allocation of spectrum is stifling mobile broadband penetration and is restricting the ability of the operators to build and roll-out quality networks that can meet the demands of today's digital age," Fouladi adds.

Downtime drama

Fouladi says MTN is working on addressing a number of outstanding challenges, including power stability and vandalism of its telecoms equipment at its sites, which include backup batteries and generators.

"We are negotiating a new security contract to safeguard our sites against theft and vandalism. We are also piloting the usage of lithium-based batteries and the implementation of a remote-controlled access system to our sites."

MTN's network in SA has had a number of technical issues over the past year, which have left customers frustrated. In February, one million voice, SMS and data customers throughout SA were affected for several days by sustained network downtime. In May, the network once again experienced problems when customers complained they were affected by data connectivity issues.

"We have now put massive redundancies in our core network; we have put in different operational procedures for how we monitor the network. We have made massive investments in the infrastructure and power. So we have invested in the availability and making sure that we continue to keep track of how our systems are behaving in a much deeper way, rather than just building more on top," Fouladi told ITWeb in an interview.

He could not guarantee no more network downtime in future, but says what he can guarantee is that "as the CTO, I will do my best to make sure that never happens".

Fouladi joined MTN five months ago as group CTIO, and is also temporarily filling the role of CTO of MTN SA, until a permanent appointment is finalised. He joined MTN from Vodafone Spain, where he was CTO for the past three years. Before that, he held a similar role at Vodafone Romania, and previously held a number of senior management roles at Ericsson.


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