PARTNER CONTENT: Speaking with Mobile World Live at the Win Win Live extended reality space at MWC23 Barcelona, Chika Ekeji, Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at MTN Group and Sean Liu, Director of Consultant Office at Carrier BG, Huawei, spoke about MTN’s overarching strategy and how Huawei is supporting telecoms players in growing their businesses beyond connectivity.

For MTN, Africa’s largest telecoms operator, its mission is simple: To enable the benefits of a modern connected life to everyone.

To do that, Ekeji said MTN has grounded its strategy around five core areas: fintech; network as a service; enterprise; digital, and its API marketplace Chenosis.

Opening up on each pillar in detail in an interview at MWC23 Barcelona, Ekeji explained fintech was a major driver for its mission to provide connectivity to everyone as it is an underpinning anchor to financial inclusion across the continent, as well as scaling ICT and going beyond basic services to support enterprises in Africa. Its enterprise mantra also goes beyond simply connectivity, advancing its initiatives in IoT, security and other services relevant to the space.

MTN’s digital ambitions are centred around “super app” Ayoba, integrating a ranging of services from entertainment to communication and serving as a “first entry point” into the internet for many Africans.

Marketplace Chenosis ties into Ayoba, as it enables the telecoms operator to partner with a range of other companies and open up various new business models through its API gateway. And finally, its network-as-a-service offering is all about scaling its traditional assets across the continent and enabling widespread connectivity.

To support the development of these businesses, Ekeji emphasised the importance of evolving operating models, making the right investments, and having a disciplined capital allocation framework. MTN is putting effort into investing in partnerships and relationships with entities “far and wide that have the capabilities or specialised knowledge or know-how that allows us to actually deliver on this”.

Three categories of global operators
A key partner for MTN is Huawei, and the vendor has a big focus on helping operators move beyond only offering connectivity services.

Huawei’s Liu believes global operator positioning can be divided into three categories, shaping their long-term strategies.

The first, in agreement with MTN’s Ekeji, is connectivity for all, which naturally means heavy investment in 5G and fibre.

This strategy is based on the idea that connectivity is the most strategic asset, and typical cases in the western world in particular see telcos partner with big OTT players where “connectivity plays the role as the experience entrance”.

Secondly, Liu put the focus on connectivity across computing platforms, and in effect, expanding business scope to cover the whole ICT infrastructure.

Taking the example of China, Liu said telcos operate the whole infrastructure to keep the digital economy moving forward, while offering differentiated experiences and innovation fundamental to society.

Finally, and this is where its work with MTN comes into play, it is important to address strategic opportunities whereby there may be a digital gap and utilise a full stack of connectivity, computing and applications.

Liu said MTN relies on its huge user base of connectivity to expand to digital platforms, using applications to speed growth, as well as heavy investment in cloud, fintech, super apps and other areas where demands increase in Africa.

Despite the focus on the platform economy and other services, Liu however does not believe operators are leaving the connectivity business, but instead extending their operations and actually putting connectivity at the core.

Network investment 
Ekeji was in agreement that to maximise the value of its network and to prepare for future evolution, investment in 5G connectivity and other technologies to boost connectivity is a fundamental requirement.

To that end, the operator is making continuous investment to ensure they are providing “the right option for our customers to connect them when they’re at home, when they’re at work, wherever they are”.

As part of the network-as-a-service strategy, Ekeji added monetisation of assets also fall under this pillar. For example, the company has done work to scale out national roaming services across the continent beyond home market South Africa and “into countries where this wasn’t available”.

“This is all linked to maintaining competitiveness when driving in better access for customers, whether or not they were on our network. And so that’s part of how it is. We’re maximising the value of the network assets we have,” he said.

Huawei, too, is equally invested in looking at the next evolution of connectivity. Citing findings from a report titled Driving Development: The Impact of ICT Investments on the Digital Economy, released by Huawei, EI Studios, an Economist Impact division, and GSMA Intelligence.

Liu said that over a long period in the past, on average, a 10% increase in mobile adoption increased GDP by 1%. The economic benefits increased by approximately 15% when connections upgraded from one mobile network technology to a more advance one.

He pointed to the 5.5G era, as well as full stack computing, as examples of next-generation evolution.

Through ICT, he said Huawei is further expanding capabilities to new industries such as cloud, digital power, smart devices, Intelligent Automotive Solution.

“The strategic intent of this approach is to put connectivity, even ICT, as a core and create a synergistic effect around the connectivity foundation of telcos, and create a new height of business success,” Huawei’s Liu concluded.