While Chinese vendor ZTE Corporation might not garner as many news headlines as some of its rival vendors in the MEA telecoms space, some recent contract wins have proven that the company is still firmly in the game.
In March, the company signed a deal worth about $46.1 million to roll out and maintain a 3G network for Telkom Kenya, which is part of France Telecom. In 2010, ZTE deployed an HSPA+ network for South Africa telco, Cell C, as part of a deal worth $378 million. The network, which is also managed by ZTE was recognised by research firm Ovum as the fastest network in South Africa.
The deal was a significant milestone for the vendor, which has had a presence in the MEA region for about 10 years. “For our development in this region in the past year, the main milestone for us has been the cooperation with France Telecom in Kenya to sort out the 2G and 3G mobile ecosystem, to provide our SDR based UniRan solution,” says Xu Ming, CTO, ZTE Middle East and Africa.
“Another big development is our deployment of Cell C’s mobile network in South Africa. We are proud that after our deployment and commercial launch, the network was awarded as the fastest data service provider in that country.”
He adds that aside from these bigger deals, ZTE works with 90% of operators in the MEA region. In Africa, the vendor has deployed networks in countries including Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa.
Xu says that the main challenges faced by operators varies significantly between Africa and the Middle East. “In Africa, the operators’ main concern is how to reduce the total cost of ownership and how to modernise the network to be an all-IP and LTE ready network.
“For the African countries, because of the competition – there are normally many operators, big and small – the operators are always under high pressure looking for ways to reduce their TCO, capex and opex. That is important.
“For everyone to change the situation, to reduce the capex and opex, they can modernise the network, because that can help them to use the latest solution.”
In these situations, ZTE can deploy its UniRan solution and SDR-based base stations, which cut power consumption and lowers the cost of maintenance. Xu also points out that wireless solutions are proving to be popular for data services amid a traditional lack of fixed infrastructure. Furthermore, data services appear to be gathering pace, spurred on by greater international connectivity provided by undersea cable deployments.
“Cables can help to bring down the bandwidth fees, because before they used satellites. This will also help to push operators to deploy high data speed services,” he says.
As data services, and particularly high speed broadband, become increasingly important to consumers and businesses in Africa, operators too need to ensure that their deployments are future-proof. Xu recommends that telcos planning to offer high speed mobile data services deploy all-IP networks that can be upgraded to LTE.
“All-IP is also definitely one of the trends of our region. Our solutions help them to deploy all-IP, and the SDR platform of our base stations are LTE-ready. As it is all-IP, you can easily support 2G, 3G and HSPA+, and for the future it is LTE ready as well,” Xu says.
“It is not just about the TCO, but all-IP is also the requirement of the people of Africa, because people can enjoy high speed services.” Operators in Africa are also increasingly looking to outsource the management of their networks in a bid to reduce costs and this is also a trend that ZTE, which manages Cell C’s network in South Africa, is familiar with.
“It is one of the trends of our industry,” he says. “Operators begin to focus on their main business. They are trying to hand over the network operation, installation, maintenance to third parties so that they only focus on the marketing and promotion aspects. Managed services is one of the methods some of the operators have chosen to complete such a transition.
Furthermore, Xu believes the trend will continue, and he agrees that the entry of Indian telecoms giant Bharti Airtel into Africa last year will increase the pressure on the continent’s operators. “More operators will choose this way because of the pressures of competition,” he says.
Although Xu overseas the entire MEA region, he says that the trends between Africa and the Middle East “are totally different”. “We all know that mobile penetration in the Middle East is very high. They have some of the requirements of the developed countries, and they are the pioneering countries. In the Middle East, for fixed and mobile, the trend is how to bring better user experience in data services,” Xu says.
While voice services remain the main revenue generator for operators in Africa, the Middle East is now far more about data. “For them, hot issues now are to deploy their transmission systems, data networks, GPON, and to test LTE. It is a mature market and so the operators are keen to deploy high bandwidth networks.”
He adds that in the Middle East, ZTE counts Etisalat, Batelco, Zain and Qtel among its customers. The extent of ZTE’s partnership with its customers in the region varies between operators. For example, ZTE will deploy just part of a network for some operators, while for others it will provide a full end-to-end solution.
“In some countries we deploy only the radio access part and our rival provides the core network, and in some countries we have provided all the solutions, like in Ethiopia, everything from transmission, mobile network, fixed network and VAS.
“In our industry, the vendor will usually provide part of a network. But for this part of network, you will provide an end-to-end solution, which means from the installation to the commission, after-sales service and sometimes managed services,” Xu adds.