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Can Africa’s networks cope with COVID-19 demand?

Chafic Traboulsi, Head of Networks at Ericsson Middle East & Africa.
Chafic Traboulsi, Head of Networks at Ericsson Middle East & Africa.

There has been a higher demand on bandwidth across both fixed and mobile networks globally during the COVID-19 pandemic, and specifically mobile in the case of Africa.

This has emerged from a virtual discussion on maintaining mobile communications as critical infrastructure hosted by Ericsson this week.

Chafic Traboulsi, Head of Networks at Ericsson Middle East & Africa, said the company has seen a change in pattern within network traffic, with activity shifting from central business districts to residential areas as lockdown measures continue across most markets.

Traboulsi added that there was significant demand on fixed residential network infrastructure (20% - 100%, with a 90% increase in voice and streaming services pushing up demand for data) and less so on mobile networks (10% - 20% - up to 70% in voice) across most regions.

However, in Africa and regions where there is a limited penetration of fixed residential networks, the demand on mobile infrastructure was, at times, almost 40%.

According to Ericsson cellular, fixed broadband and wireless technologies are all essential for helping businesses of all sizes keep things running remotely.

Asked about any region in Africa that stood out or made an impression on Ericsson, Traboulsi made reference to the decision by South Africa’s telecommunications regulator to provide temporary additional spectrum to mobile operators and said this was a welcome move.

In April 2020 the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) assigned additional temporary spectrum and announced several recipients including Vodacom, MTN, Telkom, Liquid Telecom and Rain.

Traboulsi added: “During these challenging times, service providers are focusing their attention on solving the myriad of challenges that have been created or exacerbated by the pandemic. It’s critically important to ensure that service providers consider the importance of planning and optimising their networks.”

In terms of its COVID-19 emergency service and network design and optimisation response, Ericsson said its mission is to handle the changing traffic patterns to sustain high performance connectivity and this will be done via multi-pronged approach covering an immediate network uplift, planning & dimensioning and virtual drive test.

The company has identified several key areas of focus and these are: managing network performance, smart capacity & supply planning, occupation health and safety, as well as secure business continuity.

Ericsson believes that in the long term, safeguarding and strengthening key digital infrastructures – as well as enabling the continuous development of the underlying technologies such as 5G, IoT, Automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – will be crucial enablers as service providers emerge from the crisis.

As outlined in the webinar, the company said 5G can deliver better user experiences even with increased Mobile Broadband (MBB) traffic and enable new gaming experience and applications usage through use cases such as remote classroom environment with Virtual Reality (VR) and holographic interaction for remote workers.

“On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence and Automation will be essential to restart the supply chains through manufacturing process automation in connected factories, reducing human exposure risk in transporting goods through connected fleets and self-driving trucks along with a lot of other applications,” it added.

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