MTN develops SD-WAN to tap into narrow band IOT

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MTN is developing a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) and is re-purposing thousands of sites across the country to harness narrow band Internet of things (NB-IOT) as the rollout of turnkey solutions for enterprises gathers pace.

Giovanni Chiarelli, chief technology and information officer at MTN SA, says solutions like these are opening the door to an array of exciting new opportunities for businesses in today’s fast-paced digital economy.

MTN explains that an NB-IOT network is a Low Power Wide Area Network radio technology standard that provides strong coverage over large areas and enables wide-range connectivity of new IOT devices and services.

SDN (software-defined networking) technology, meanwhile, connects enterprise networks – including branch offices and data centres – over large geographic distances, it adds.

MTN has invested over R40 billion in the past four years, to build its network in SA, and Chiarelli says this investment is providing a powerful platform from which new solutions can be rolled out, both now and into the future.

“This investment is proof of our vision which is translated into exceptional performance numbers and improved network experience for our customers. Technology advancement is an important part of our business and the numbers we are looking at investing in the next few years are in the same ballpark as what we have spent in the past,” says Chiarelli.

“Not many companies in South Africa or on the continent are investing as much as we do in technology today. We are very serious about technology excellence as the catalyst that helps deliver exceptional solutions for our customers.”

MTN notes that when companies extend networks over greater distances and across multiple carriers’ networks, they face operational complexities, including network challenges, delay in transmitting data and even service outages.

It points out that the SD-WAN network will counter these constraints by allowing companies to extend their computer networks over large distances and to connect remote branch offices to data centres and each other. It will also deliver the applications and services required to perform business functions.

“SD-WAN is one of the new ways of building resilient enterprise networks. The decision to take this route is a response to increasing demand from some of our customers who called on us to build high performing networks that can support their IOT ambitions and digitisation journey,” says Chiarelli.

According to MTN, this is a programmable network that supports quality of service by giving bandwidth priority to the most critical applications. This may include dynamic path selection and sending an application on a faster link. “The SD-WAN network gives us an opportunity to orchestrate and balance the cloud services our clients buy from different suppliers,” says Chiarelli.

MTN SA plans to enable each one of its network sites with NB-IOT capability – not just in densely populated areas. “All our sites will be enabled with NB-IOT in the lowest possible frequency to give the broadest coverage. We expect to have the full dispersion of NB-IOT on our entire network footprint,” says Chiarelli.

Current network projects follow successive independent accolades for MTN’s network, including best performing network in South Africa, the company says.

MTN SA’s microwave link network serves approximately 71% of businesses, while its fibre to the business network spans over 18 000 kilometers and has a capacity to serve over 30% of the business community. In addition, MTN SA has eight data centres and 30 regional data centres.

“Our network needs to move to new generation to support 5G capabilities on the one hand, and to support additional spectrum bands that will hopefully be assigned soon. Spectrum allocation is crucial to provide us with capacity so that we can cater to increasing demands on our 4G network which is doubling each year. Without additional spectrum, we will be constrained in our ability to support our enterprise clients with new technologies,” concludes Chiarelli.

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