Pascal Gille, VP technical sales Middle East, Turkey and Africa at Alcatel Lucent.
Dr. Mohamed Nadder Hamdy, PhD director wireless network engineering at CommScope MEA.
Teemu Salmi, head of operations at Ericsson region Middle East.
Joachim Wuilmet, head of marketing and corporate affairs Middle East and Africa at Nokia Networks.
CommsMEA: In which areas are operators investing the most when enhancing their networks in the MEA region?
Wuilmet: Service providers in the Middle East and Africa region face the challenges of ever increasing demand for network capacity, speed and coverage. On average, we see the mobile broadband traffic approximatively doubling every year globally, with the same trend also seen in MEA. Increased adoption of smartphones and the use of data intensive applications in the region, demand higher bandwidth, and require operators to constantly add more capacity to their networks. In addition, expanding network coverage is critical to not just add more subscribers to their network but to also offer seamless coverage to the existing customer base. So, broadly speaking, the main investments in the region are made to enhance capacity and coverage.
CommsMEA: What areas should be improved in operators’ networks in the MEA region?
Salmi: Most operators have a challenge with the growing demand for data and how to secure the right investment to grow in their respective markets. As end-users we expect to be connected everywhere, every time and with a seamless experience and quality. This poses a challenge for all our operators to constantly secure that networks are performing to expectation. End-user experience is a huge differentiator on the market and the operators need to constantly work with optimising the resources and capacity in their networks to stay relevant and win the market game. Customer loyalty is something that needs to be earned and customers are not always willing to wait, but rather move to a brand that delivers the best in class experience.
CommsMEA: Should operators in the region upgrade their 3G networks to 4G?
Salmi: First of all this is a regulatory question in each market, so spectrum and licenses for 4G need to be issued in each market before it can happen. However, after the regulatory question is passed, there is no question that operators need to invest in 4G. The data consumption will just continue to grow and the need of speed in data traffic is also increasing. 4G technology will give advantages compared to 3G that are not comparable and once again are a big differentiator on the market when it comes to winning the trust and loyalty of their customers. With 4G technology, speed and app coverage will improve which will lead to more satisfied customers. With 4G technology other end-user experiences such as Voice over LTE (VoLTE) can be introduced to secure superior voice services in the network by offering beyond HD voice quality services.
Hamdy: Evolving to 4G is a fact of life for all mobile operators who intend to compete in the mobile data domain. But the real question is then “should we keep running 2G and 3G after launching 4G networks?” So 2G is still needed for voice only, roaming and simple M2M applications (that is until 3GPP NB-LTE standards are released). 3G’s only plus is its handsets availability and cost as compared to 4G. This gap is almost gone by now that many experts believe we’ll end up having 2G + 4G networks operations only.
CommsMEA: Which markets are ready for a shift from 3G to 4G in the MEA region?
Wuilmet: To give you a few examples, we are seeing the North Africa market taking a shift towards 4G with recent or upcoming launches. Nokia has deployed North Africa’s first commercial LTE network in Algeria for Algerie Telecom. In addition, Nokia Networks provided its radio network platform, Single RAN Advanced for launching Maroc Telecom’s LTE-A networks in Morocco. While a number of 4G networks is likely to come up in this region in the near future, in Tunisia it is expected to be launched in 2016.
We also believe that Iran, the second largest economy in the MEA region is poised to a rapid 4G adoption. With over 60% of the country’s 80m population under the age of 30 years, there is a huge appetite for high-speed mobile broadband services.
Hamdy: I’ve just returned from a short trip to Ghana and Nigeria. Even though the ARPU is relatively low in these markets, it is yet very noticeable how most of the people over there are heavy smartphones’ users. On top of that, operators are also anxious to deploy LTE. However, the regulators are struggling to vacate and award the necessary spectrum bands. In other words, the users’ demand and investment opportunities are there, but the regulations are not yet in place.
Gille: In the Gulf region, operators are developing use cases around 4G already. Now, 4G is providing better coverage and capacity for intensive internet applications and enabling more video consumption. Better spectral efficiency is also improving the total costs of ownership by reducing the cost per bit.
Africa is also adopting 4G as a leapfrog from 2G into more coverage and better accessibility for subscribers spread over wide geographic areas, with early adopters and good dynamic in Ghana, Kenya and Eastern Africa.
The North African market is looking for the right opportunity to introduce 4G, seeking the adequate spectrum and the right mobile data consumption patterns that would justify the investment and yield the lowest cost/bit.
In South and West African countries, the case for investment is driven by giving the mobile players an edge in competing with fixed service providers on broadband access.
The evolution to 4G/LTE might have different circumstances and drivers but it is an imminent move to achieve better spectral efficiency, higher throughput and lower cost per bit associated with flat IP economic architecture.
CommsMEA: How can operators monetise their network enhancement investments in the MEA region?
Wuilmet: Upgrades to their next-generation networks will provide them with ability to offer a number of advanced services. These include upgraded traffic management and tiered quality of service, customer analytics, advanced security and location-based services and sophisticated cloud computing. Telcos can experiment with rich communication services such as, IP-based voice, messaging and video.
Partnering with OTT players and having business models and pricing plan can allow operators to monetise the growth in the data traffic. Simply said, more data consumed should bring more revenue.
CommsMEA: Are consumers demanding a better network? Why?
Wuilmet: Absolutely! Customers are no longer using their mobile devices just to make calls, but use their smartphone with a lot of data-intensive applications for entertainment and business purposes. A smartphone is an entertainment device, a research tool for a college student and the central business component for an Uber taxi driver. This varied usage and requirements demand pervasive coverage, reliable connectivity, and higher speed networks – in short a better network.
Gille: Consumers are asking for a better customer experience and quality of service. They are looking for full mobility when they are using data. A good network should be able to provide a personalised, reliable, secure and immediate service anywhere, in any device at any moment. When those requirements are not fulfilled, the churn rate is directly impacted.