Reinventing Africa through 5G,Cloud and Edge Rural Connectivity and NaaS enablement

Since the Worldbank report on Africa connectivity in 2019 calling for action to increase regions connectivity and transformation by digital means there had been a lot of progress and we are lucky to work and witness change on ground together with big Operators and connectivity providers in the region including some of our trusted customers MTN , Liquid Telecom , South African Post , Telkom and many others .

The purpose of this writeup is to share our unique perspective of region requirements and why there is a great need to build future platforms considering those requirements . This is so important that we build Technology not only for privileged ones but for all if we need to ensure Technology remains a way to drive human progress .

Top requirements from African customers

  • Connectivity of even the prosperous economies like South Africa , Nigeria , Botswana is no more than 60% leaving the large population inaccessible to the World . Where there is connectivity its not fit for purpose for example the Covid-19 e-learning platforms can not give services on remote Africa 2.5G #Edge Networks at 50Kbps

Following are the lessons we learnt from Africa during last year stride on establishing our strong team in Southtel in Africa that covers 20+ markets in Africa . Although lessons are many but i will summarize top5 to make sense main focus areas in next 12-18months and to build something solid as foundation over which we can scale and build an strong , open and United Africa .

Top1:5G is a Innovation Platform

5G is not like its early generations where in globally there was both one type of delivery model and set of services including OTT that were offered .

5G will require an innovation mindset because it will be something different for different operators , alone the Frequency allocated to 5G will make a huge difference to delivery models e.g mmwave Above 26Ghz is so different than 800MHz FDD deployment .

There is one new initiative pushed by leading vendors like Ericsson in the form of ISV program which we believe can bring local developers and startups to use platforms to build something unique for the market as per promise like below

One example is the home security solution based on 3GPP Rleease15 eMBB that run on Ericsson 5G platforms

Top2: Standard Data Ingestion platform

There is a strong desire by Hype and not by customers to show them how Telco’s use AI ?

In 2020 in GSMA i were deeply involved to work with some of great teams to materialize a few and top use cases that came up were

  • 5G Rollout and Site Optimization
  • Operations automation like cross layer RCA , Infrastructure optimization

However using Silo stacks to deliver a use case translated to finding a closed road finally i think what projects in Africa taught me that we must build One Datalake and One API Lake primarily focussed on to build

  • Data Ingestion Platform that is real time , robust and scalable
  • Use of graphs as a way to build and consume data for use cases

Top3: Edge and NaaS connectivity

Edge is a continuum between developer and user and hence each region and consumer need to focus on its own definition to make it real . The rollout of SouthAfrica 5G revealed that even big enterprises are not big enough to make the Edge of their own and so are NPN networks and hence there will not a CBRS 3.5Ghz the only issue is on current offered 3.7Ghz simple the minimum 280Mhz is not available and it is so vital to make a real use case of Africa around

  • Industrial IoT specially for mining and worked safety
  • Private 5G mostly for Airports and University campus

Top4: Disaggregation on RAN and TXN

It is hard to believe but yes its true that big operators in Africa are one of the main participants and users of disaggregation on RAN and Transport , infact the large global operators like Airtel and Vodafone has already rolling the disaggregated solutions in the African remote markets and if we combine right skills on top of it will mean a true transformation for Africa .

In Southtel we have been engaging with a number of standard bodies and ecosystem providers to build local innovation center , test and validation facilities in Johannesburg that can also support openlabs for the community . Through this partnerships we are hopeful to build and innovate Africa , read more information here

Check this one out .

On the RAN side there is still lag in local expertise to build RAN disaggregation large rollout for commercial 5G or 4G services , having said this there is a real desire to introduce them for green field spots inside brown field environments mainly focusing on

  • End to end solutions with use cases using Open RAN and 5G Open Magma release
  • Building Macro and mostly inbuilding coverage using RAN disaggregation

I think we are currently in RFX and PoC phase and next 12-18months is crucial to build something meaningful

Top5: Desire of Open Cloud

Due to logistics and local expertise still adoption of opensource in Africa is in frenzy state and i think big vendors really take advantage of this situation to push the closed solutions with open labels on it . I think there is a shared responsibility for all to solve this issue to increase platform adoption and to control global cyber issues in the next years .

However it seems clear with the build of pilot MTN Open cloud using Open cloud solutions means a lot to future growth as most future NF’s will work on the Cloud . But top questions we need to solve is

  • How to improve Africa Opensource adoption strategy
  • How to build partner and developer ecosystem
  • How to accelerate adoption of hybrid cloud

It seems clear in Africa all clouds specially vendor provided solutions like Ericsson CCD , Nokia Cloud band , VMware VIO etc will be dominant and their coexistence with open cloud solutions like RedHat is a must , we need to find a balance for workloads to exist in all platforms that can support portability across the platforms . This is what is a must to realize African Dream .

I am expecting a strong support from vendors , partners and ecosystem to reduce technology barriers that currently reduces new technology rollouts in Africa , there should be something that lies about $ interests and building open platforms for future is most important to build a stronger and connected Africa

Published by

Saad Sheikh

I am a Senior Architect with a passion to architect and deliver solutions addressing business adoption of the Cloud and Automation/Orchestration covering both Telco and IT Applications industry. My work in carrier Digital transformation involve Architecting and deploying Platforms for both Telco and IT Applications including Clouds both Open stack and container platforms, carrier grade NFV ,SDN and Infra Networking , DevOps CI/CD , Orchestration both NFVO and E2E SO , Edge and 5G platforms for both Consumer and Enterprise business. On DevOps side i am deeply interested in TaaS platforms and journey towards unified clouds including transition strategy for successful migration to the Cloud Please write to me on

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