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Boosting mobile broadband across Africa

10 JUL 2017

PARTNER INTERVIEW: Ahead of the GSMA Mobile 360 Africa event in Tanzania, David Chen, VP of the Carrier Business Group, Huawei Southern Africa (pictured below), spoke to Mobile World Live about the challenges of delivering mobile broadband services across the region’s diverse markets, and how Huawei is looking to help operators address them. He also talked about the steps governments can take to help on this path.

What are the main challenges in providing high-quality mobile broadband services to consumers in urban areas?
Africa’s population is accelerating fast, the structure has become younger, the middle class is growing and video service has become a traffic engine. However there are challenges.

The first challenge is that the traffic depression and congestion of networks is widespread. According to Huawei statistics for Southern Africa, 17 per cent of UMTS cells are depressed, and the speed experienced is lower than 512Kb/s, which means the network could not support 360P video service. For the LTE cells, 15 per cent of cells are congested, and 1080P full HD video service is not available.

The second challenge is the massive number of GSM users and lack of 900MHz spectrum. According to predictions, in three years the number of GSM users will be over 50 per cent. For operators, they have no abundant 900MHz spectrum to provide sufficient voice service and data service.

The third challenge is that it is hard to build new sites in urban areas. It is very hard to get new site location resources and the application process of building new urban sites will take a long time – approximately 180 to 270 days. So when the operator has a good business plan to deploy these new urban sites, it will take one to two years to get the sites on air (manufacturing and sea shipment and site construction also needs several months).

Theft is also a big issue.

How is Huawei working with its customers and partners to address these challenges?
Huawei’s multi-layer network consisting of macro, pole-mounted, micro and indoor sites for urban areas is an innovative site deployment solution changing network roll-out modes from flat to multi-dimension, which resolves capacity, intensive coverage and experience issues to improve ROI.

For example, to target insufficient 900MHz spectrum, the GU@5MHz solution helps to deploy ubiquitous MBB networks and has been commercially deployed for Vodafone India and an African operator.

Huawei is also working with partners to access potential site location resources such as poles, which can be used for new site construction. There are also design innovation solutions which require less site footprint, reduce the time to apply the process, and feature a strong cabinet anti-theft design.

Huawei then provides a total solution package (including site acquisition, equipment supply, and delivery) to customers, helps customers to find new site resources and reduces on-air time with a 40 per cent TCO saving. We already applied this model with several sub-Sahara Africa operators.

What are the main challenges in providing high-quality mobile broadband services to consumers in rural areas?
In rural areas residents have strong demand for communications services. However, site deployment in these areas is difficult due to poor infrastructure, such as a lack of mains power and transmission resources, which brings higher CAPEX than the urban area. However these areas are scarcely inhabited. The ARPU is as low as $1 to $3.

The challenge therefore is the ROI time. It can be as long as five years or more, which means operators don’t often have plans to build new sites in rural areas. With the same investment budget, rural areas will generate less revenue compared with urban areas. Operators, thus, usually prefer to build new sites in urban areas.

Also, in many rural areas there is no power grid supply. Site power relies on diesel generators which run 24 hours per day, resulting in very high fuel consumption, OPEX, and polluting our environment.

How is Huawei working with its customers and partners to address this?
Huawei designs innovative solutions which need less power consumption per site. With solar power solutions, the cost decrease is large and the solar power OPEX is almost zero. Our solution also has less height requirements on towers.

Altogether, Huawei’s innovative RuralStar solution helps customers reduce site CAPEX and reduces ROI from between six and ten years to around three to five years. Right now, Huawei is the only vendor in the world who can provide this innovative technology. Some projects with African operators are already underway. We look forward to bringing more high quality communication service to African residents in rural areas.

How important will infrastructure sharing be for improving network coverage, and how can Huawei help in this regard?
Infrastructure sharing has been a new trend in Africa in recent years. It can reduce a lot of site investment, which means lower mobile broadband prices for the end user. It can also save a lot of land for the country.

Infrastructure sharing can enhance competition between different operators and as a result, the end user will benefit from better service. At Huawei we make our main equipment, power and towers – there is plenty of opportunity for sharing!

What can governments do to encourage investments in high-quality mobile broadband networks?
Governments can rent or encourage third parties to open some existing resources like street lamps, grid poles and traffic poles to operators for urban site construction. This so-called infrastructure sharing is better if government and operators collaborate in the initial design stage.

Governments can also simplify new site construction processes and release more spectrum to operators who need it. For rural areas, governments should provide some investment or financial support for building new sites.

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Mobile World Live

Mobile World Live is the online service dedicated to providing the mobile industry with daily news coverage & analysis of the biggest global market developments.

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