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How Africa’s MNOs can leverage cloud-native 2G to expand coverage quickly and cost-effectively 

By Ramin Attari
25 April 2022   |   10:01 am
Africa's Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) face several challenges. On the one end, they are grappling with growing data consumption and preparing the networks to launch 5G services in the future. On the other end, the market demands they continue running 2G and 3G networks for many years. 5G-enabled use cases and services will allow them…

Africa’s Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) face several challenges. On the one end, they are grappling with growing data consumption and preparing the networks to launch 5G services in the future. On the other end, the market demands they continue running 2G and 3G networks for many years.

5G-enabled use cases and services will allow them to add new revenue streams and increase profitability. However, the high cost of 4G and 5G devices coupled with the low spending capability of the subscribers means that the MNOs need to continue offering 2G and 3G services for several more years.

This means that 2G continues to be relevant and is likely to remain so for the next several years. Nearly six million 2G devices are sold every year in Africa, and 14 million users still use 2G devices. However, only 10% of Africa’s population uses 4G, even though half is covered by a 4G signal, says a recent report by Vodafone.

The operational cost of running 2G and 3G legacy networks is high, while the Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) continues to be low. Further, running multi-technology networks, including 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G, not only adds to network complexity but also results in the high cost of managing multiple Gs.

For instance, the traditional 2G voice-only and broadband 3G and 4G are heavy and hardware-centric, demanding high capital (CAPEX) and operational (OPEX) expenditure to deploy and operate. In addition, they consume a greater amount of energy, require large storage spaces, and make it challenging for the MNOs to upgrade their networks.

African MNOs are under tremendous pressure to address these network challenges as the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the need for a robust and reliable digital infrastructure. There is an urgency to connect the unconnected so they are able to benefit from connectivity to learn and grow. However, legacy networks are preventing the MNOs from bridging the digital divide and expanding the benefits of connectivity.

Cloud-native architecture to ensure reliability and cost-effectiveness
Several technology giants, including Google and Facebook, among others, have been using cloud-native-based systems for several years now. It has helped them to scale quickly and cost-effectively while maintaining the same level of services.

The open compute model is now enabling the MNOs to move away from proprietary hardware to open network architecture.

Software-based cloud-native 2G Open RAN is emerging as an ideal solution to quickly extend the benefit of connectivity to more and more people while keeping costs under control. More importantly, MNOs can just use Open RAN software upgrades to offer services based on 4G and 5G. It allows MNOs to reconfigure legacy 2G and 3G networks to support newer communications standards such as 4G and 5G.

A virtualized 2G solution, such as that offered by Parallel Wireless, ensures the lowest Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) as it provides a scalable and software upgradable virtual base station (BTS) and Base Station Controller (BSC), using virtualized Aggregator function. In addition, the CAPEX and OPEX further come down as virtualized 2G doesn’t require cooling and is known to consume much less power when compared with traditional networks.

The most crucial aspect of cloud-native 2G, as part of an All G Open RAN solution, is that the MNOs’ investments are future-proof as it requires just a software upgrade to offer services based on the latest communications standards. This way, MNOs can cost-effectively migrate to 3G, 4G and 5G with a software upgrade when the market is ready for newer standards.

Software-powered cloud-native Open RAN solutions allow self-optimization and self-healing of sites located in remote and difficult-to-reach areas. This further helps in bringing down the operating cost.

The cloud-native 2G approach is suitable for different deployment scenarios, greenfield deployments, or when the MNO wants to expand the existing 2G network.

Cloud-native 2G Open RAN allows unification of all Gs on one platform, thus simplifying the network and reducing the total ownership cost to build, upgrade, and maintain networks. But, more importantly, it allows MNOs to enhance network efficiency even as they are able to deliver 2G, 3G, 4G, and ultra-high-speed and extremely low latency required by 5G. This way, they can take care of the needs of all kinds of customers, right from a 2G customer to a 5G subscriber.

Cloud-native Open RAN uses the principles of virtualization to bring down the cost of deployment for all generations, from 2G to 5G. Essentially, this means that the investment in setting up 5G networks comes down significantly while they are able to offer high-quality services to customers on the existing 2G, or any G, network.

Adopting a cloud-native approach to deploy and manage networks provides several benefits for MNOs, including network scalability, flexibility, faster time-to-market, and reduced CAPEX and OPEX. With mobile networks becoming the lifeline of the people, Africa’s MNOs must use a cloud-native All G Open RAN network strategy to quickly expand 2G networks while future-proofing their investments to move to newer communications standards as the market matures.

Ramin Attari is the Regional VP Sales, Middle East and Africa – Parallel Wireless.

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