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Why 5G OpenRAN will set Africa’s post-COVID connectivity agenda

Brian Armstrong, Chair of Digital Business, WITS.
Brian Armstrong, Chair of Digital Business, WITS.

5G OpenRAN is inextricably linked to Africa’s ability to connect, as well as interconnection between South Africa and the rest of the continent. The expectation among business leaders in telecommunications is that as 5G use cases emerge, it is inevitable that the multi-tenant, multi-vendor OpenRAN model will take root and businesses must be ready to respond.

At a 5G OpenRAN event in Johannesburg this week, systems integrator NEC XON said as disruptive 4IR technologies like AI, quantum computing and blockchain take hold, 5G OpenRAN provides the building blocks to make 5G a reality.

This means the delivery of improved network capability and a reduction in costs of devices and network systems.

Johann Coetzee, Executive Vice President, NEC XON said the company has invested over US$4.4-billion in open software over the past five years and connectivity remains a priority focus going forward.

NEC XON used the event to advocate the relevance of OpenRAN, Open RAN frees customers from vendor lock-in and provides cost-effective roadmaps to 5G adoption for Africa’s first and second-tier MNOs and communications service providers (CSPs).

“5G Open RAN enables new network and business models by leveraging low latency, high throughput, high connection capacity benefits that help MNOs and CSPs prepare for emerging use cases as well as those that cannot yet be predicted,” the company added.

Wally Beelders, Communications Cluster Executive, NEC XON, said 5G and OpenRAN is critical to company’s future relevance in the market. He said the company will focus on collaboration between its two key pillars – networking solutions and wireless solutions – in order to make progress with its objective to emerge as a leading African telecommunications and enterprise connectivity systems integrator.

“Africa’s top networks want the benefits of 5G Open RAN’s open systems integration and vendor ecosystem. It enables cost-effective migrations that help them expand coverage, grow the subscriber base, and enable new services,” said Beelders.

Wally Beelders, Communications Cluster Executive, NEC XON.
Wally Beelders, Communications Cluster Executive, NEC XON.

Keynote presenter Brian Armstrong, Chair of Digital Business, WITS, said 5G OpenRAN has a fundamental role to play in addressing the digital divide and positioning the continent to join and leverage the digital revolution.

“Personal computing and the Internet established the foundation of the digital revolution. Then we had 3G and apps that built on it. Now 5G, with the Internet of things (IoT), data science, and distributed intelligence, establish the next phase of innovation. 5G Open RAN creates a platform to leverage these technologies to enable innovation and the unexpected, which are the advances that we cannot predict we will derive from this 10x and even 100x enabler.”

“The clusters of interrelated technological innovation such as AI, IoT, and data analytics, via pervasive next-generation connectivity that uses 5G Open RAN, are central to the next surge of the industrial revolution,” said Professor Armstrong. “And, as with other technological paradigms, organisations that lead adoption lead the markets. 3G became visible to the majority of people between 2007 and 2010, when it changed how we interact with each other and businesses. But the leaders had already begun their network deployments between 2003 and 2005. The advantage we can gain today is understanding how we adapt our business strategy and core business processes to capitalise on the benefits.”

In underlining the business case for this model, Willem Wentzel, General Manager Wireless at NEC XONsaid that whereas traditional base station sites do not readily accept new innovations or solutions, 5G OpenRAN is more conducive to taking on the work of budding entrepreneurs.

It serves as a test-scenario to pilot technology solutions and thereby contributes towards technical skills development.

Armstrong acknowledged the argument that it is in Africa’s best interests to get the second and third revolutions right before even thinking of tackling 4IR

The OpenRAN model is based on an open architecture defined by multiple vendor technologies.

Wentzel added that one of the biggest challenges lies in being able to work together, to gel and work harmoniously and have a single ‘go-to’ resource behind all these technologies.

This is the role NEC XON has carved out in the market and where it believes it can add the most value.

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