Thanks to mobile communications, more and more Africans have access to people, markets and information, even in remote regions of the continent. Rohde & Schwarz mobile network testing equipment and services are being used to improve network performance and quality in 21 African countries.
"Africa is a sleeping giant, about to be awoken“, said former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to describe his home continent a few years ago. And it is conceivable that the giant was awakened by the ringing of a mobile phone, because nothing has changed the lives of Africans in the last ten years more than mobile communications. To optimize its networks, South Africa-based multinational mobile network operator MTN Group relies on technology and expertise from Rohde & Schwarz.
Today, around 1.3 billion people live in Africa, and by 2050, the population will almost double to an estimated 2.5 billion. The average age is 19. With more than 2000 languages and dialects across 54 nations, Africa is a continent full of both diversity and contradictions. While half of the population has no access to electricity, nearly one billion Africans use mobile phones. Kenya's technology hub, known as Silicon Savannah, is considered the cradle of innovation in Africa. At the same time, the Maasai herd goats and live in mud huts – and often own a mobile phone.
Mobile phones: a driving force for development
Africa is the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world. In areas where the power supply is poor, people use generators to access the mobile network. In remote regions especially, the mobile phone often provides the only access people have to information, education, politics, financial services and health care. According to studies, mobile devices are even a key driver en route to achieving the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals.
Mobile phones bridge deficient infrastructure such as poor roads and a lack of medical professionals, thus also helping in the fight against poverty. In remote and poor regions, for example, child and maternal mortality rates have fallen, helped not least by apps that provide medical information or help identify counterfeit medicines.
A leap into the digital future
Apps mobilize Africa. They facilitate medical care and enable consulting on agriculture and transport. The motto is to “get active yourself”. Users of Kenya’s M-Pesa service, for example, can make cashless payments without needing to have a bank account. Various apps such as Farmerline and WeFarm support farmers and fish breeders; Afriscout leads herders to good grazing areas; and the delivery service Tupuca even supplies customers with live goats.
Africa exemplifies a phenomenon known as leapfrogging: earlier stages of development, such as the landline era, are simply skipped, and many people go directly to a mobile phone. Like this, the smart exploitation of technology helps the continent to stay ahead internationally. The M-Pesa payment system has been around since 2007 – substantially longer than, say, Apple Pay. Mobile payment is now more widespread in Kenya than in Germany.
Large-scale measurement campaign for better network coverage in rural areas
But far away from metropolises like Cape Town and Nairobi, there is still a great deal of room for improvement in terms of network quality. For this reason, South Africa based mobile communications company MTN Group, with a presence in 21 African countries and the Middle East, entered into a partnership with Rohde & Schwarz in 2018. Working closely together, the two companies are conducting a multinational benchmarking project that is already improving network quality in Africa.
Rohde & Schwarz is thus expanding its role as a leading global provider of managed services in the field of mobile network testing. Starting in spring 2018 and set to cover a period of at least three years, complex network measurements have been carried out in numerous African countries. Rohde & Schwarz provides everything for these drive tests from a single source: methodology, testing expertise, analytical services and logistics.
Data collected during the benchmarking project offer mobile network operators better insight into the quality of their and their competitors’ networks. In the course of these drives, network quality is checked on the road in cars equipped with the Rohde & Schwarz measurement equipment, smartphones and radio frequency scanners. Using the comprehensive insights and recommendations provided by Rohde & Schwarz experts, operators can identify and systematically improve critical factors that impact network quality and mobile connectivity. The results also allow operators to make decisions about strategic investments.
Improvements to networks and quality of life
Shakil Ahmed, Senior Sales Director Middle East & Africa at Rohde & Schwarz, works hand in hand with the MTN Group and has been on site in almost all of the countries involved. "In Africa, you have to bring a little spirit of adventure to test drives," says Ahmed. He is passionate about the job, sees it not only as an opportunity for Africa to optimize its network quality, but also as a chance for Rohde & Schwarz to prove itself once again as a reliable partner and to deliver benefits. "Africa is helped far more by supporting modern technology than, for example, with worn-out tractors," he is keen to stress.
This project has been highly complex and at some times, Rohde & Schwarz managed services team managed more than 20 measurement systems in parallel. The team has been processing all the measured data on daily basis and regularly providing an overview and insights about the network performance to several operators at the same time. This is a collective effort and great achievement of Rohde & Schwarz, as many multi-disciplinary teams across divisions have been involved and performed at their best to make this project successful.
Thanks to the data and recommendations from Rohde & Schwarz, the MTN Group has already been able to significantly optimize network quality by 40% in 14 African countries. The ideal benchmark here is the QoE oriented NPS, a single metric that characterizes the overall network performance. The NPS serves as an index of the quality of mobile networks and reflects the perceived quality of experience. This has an immediate impact on the quality of experience (QoE), directly benefiting end users by providing them with better network coverage in urban and rural areas, as well as with improved voice and video quality and more reliable and faster wireless connections.
CEO of Rohde & Schwarz SwissQual AG and the driving force behind managed services team, Hanspeter Bobst, says: “The passion and dedication with which improvement recommendations have been implemented, leading to significant network quality and performance improvements, are highly impressive. The success of the second phase further validates the capabilities of our tools and the effectiveness of the NPS as applied in our benchmarking and analytics products. We are very pleased to share and expand our expert knowledge through this partnership and are excited about the next phase.”
5G for Africa
Covid-19 has once again highlighted the importance of connectivity for us as humans. The pandemic made it impossible to carry out many of the tests planned for 2020, and Rohde & Schwarz will continue these tests in 2021 and 2022, when it is also anticipated that 5G NR network measurements will go ahead. For these tests, Rohde & Schwarz will be using test solutions equipped with the latest 5G features such as beamforming, massive MIMO (mMIMO: massive MIMO systems use a large number of transmitter and receiver elements with amplitude and phase control), higher bandwidths and data rates. In four countries, frequencies have already been allocated and 5G networks are being rolled-out. Will Africa be one of the pioneers for the new mobile communications standard? It looks as if the sleeping giant is waking up.