Mustafa Golam, lead consultant, PS Core Operation for MTN Nigeria will be speaking on Day Two of the LTE MENA conference, taking place on the 11th-13th May 2014 at the Conrad, Dubai, UAE. In this interview ahead of the conference we find out more about how the importance of data access is growing at the most valuable resource in Africa.
What are the major challenges to upgrading your network to LTE?
The major challenges that we have faced during LTE Trial in our network are:
a) A lack of adequate resources with the expertise and understanding of planning and integration of LTE networks.
b) Issues related to planning and network dimensioning with operators.
c) License and frequency issues with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) or other regulatory bodies.
d) Improper handshaking and lack of troubleshooting expertise in multi-vendor scenarios.
e) A lack of measurement tools or guidelines performance of the LTE core.
Does enhancing backhaul links go hand-in-hand with LTE and what are the challenges there?
From our LTE trial experience, we gathered knowledge that enhancing our backhaul links should be well ahead of launching our LTE service. Making LTE live on the network or even as part of the trial can create very high data utilisation pressure within the network’s backhaul links and also on Internet links.
Improper dimensioning halted the trial quite a few times as we had to work closely with the MPLS QoS parameters to tweak the bandwidth reservation in the MPLS Core. Also we advise that the trial core and trial access area should be in close proximity so that maximum UL/DL speed can be measured correctly and the results than can be used as benchmarks for future deployment of the LTE.
What is the single most significant or interesting technology that you think will have an impact in the next 12 months?
For us it is definitely LTE. However, there are many places in Africa where 3G and even 2G data need to grow to a level so that certain data driven services can be introduced and subscribers will be used to it. Most of the operators in Africa still have a voice to data subscriber ratio of 10:1. This means that if the operator has a subscriber base of 10 million, very likely their data subscribers (i.e. active PDP) is in the order of one million. Hence there is the potential for huge data growth in certain areas, and operators should focus on these as well as try to introduce data into key business areas.
How are you using capabilities such as QoS to improve the customer experience?
In our network we have taken a holistic approach to ensure there is a minimum guaranteed bandwidth to our customers. We had an audit of all Nodes in the data value chain, where we cross-checked the licensed capacity with utilisation of the node, from node perspective as well as subscriber perspective. These included, CS Nodes, SAPC, HLR, SGSN, GGSN, RNC/BSC for improper dimensioning and parameter settings. After the audit, we had a project where E2E QoS monitoring was possible where GBR was raised to certain value. This had given us an added advantage compared to our competitors and within a month the market share increment also increased. In addition to this, we had implemented end-to-end Qos and VVIP Subscriber Hotline and proactive monitoring of logs for major issues, which helped us a lot in satisfying the ever growing data demand from our subscribers.
How do you expect networks to adapt and change over the next five years and how will it impact lives?
The less developed countries are going to see tremendous acceleration in data growth. People are becoming more eager to use the Internet, and are becoming more demanding on their data throughput. Data network planning, especially at the access nodes, need to be diversified and more dynamic, if possible. Data is the highest priority in many innovative operations across the continent. Where it’s online social presence or making new friends, people are using Internet in numerous ways and in the coming days the Internet will become as ubiquitous as utilities such as the electricity and the water supply.
What are you most looking forward to at the LTE MENA conference?
I am looking forward to meeting with industry leaders at the LTE MENA conference, and discovering their views and visions for the potential for data growth in the MENA or sub-Saharan African regions. It’s a great occasion to meet, mingle and learn from the leading minds in the telecom industry from a diversity of views from operators, vendors, device manufacturer, content providers and Internet players.