“The company received its 3G license in 1993 and started rolling out its operations the following year. It offers voice, data, telemetry and enterprise services to over 30 million subscribers and enterprise customers.
“MTN’s 2G network covers over 98% of the population, its 3G network covers over 85% of the population and its LTE network covers approximately 45% of the population. MTN SA is one of the key providers of fiber to the home (FTTH), a high-speed fiber network that it has deployed in over 10 000 homes,” says, Mteto Nyati, CEO.
In order to succeed within the industry, Nyati says that, more than ever before, innovation in telecommunications is a prerequisite for organisational growth.
“It is also necessary to enable the people and businesses of the 22 countries in which we operate across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East to take part in the digital arena.
“The world around South Africa is moving very fast, and there is an ongoing shift towards everything mobile. OTT companies have built up massive communities of people, creating immensely powerful platforms for many things. Everything from commerce to politics is being transformed by leaps in technology and customer behaviour,” he explains.
MTN believes that customer-centricity is what will set the operator apart from its rivals. Customer-centricity entails multiple facets, which includes improving their systems and making them more user-friendly, improving their network quality and coverage, and introducing attractive and customised solutions that meet the needs of their customers.
With regard to important industry trends, Nyati believes we are seeing the uptake of digital services as the adoption of smartphones continues to increase alongside the rollout of 3G and LTE.
“As a result, we are seeing strong growth apps, which are shaping and influencing personal life,” he says.
He believes that consumers want infotainment on the go, and applications such as MTN Play provide a rich reservoir of news, sports, apps, weather, entertainment and other services that consumers desire.
“We have a huge uptake of music on digital platforms, such as MTN Music+, and this platform has enabled artists from across the continent to broaden their revenue streams and earn royalties from the sales of caller tunes and their material.
“The Internet of things is one of the biggest trends that the industry is experiencing. People, machines and devices are becoming increasingly connected in an ever-evolving, digital ecosystem. The telecoms sector is transforming the way industry and enterprises function, and this disruptive impact of connectivity is beginning to be felt across many sectors of the economy,” he explains.
IoT is still in its formative stages in Africa, however, forecasts for growth are encouraging. It is projected that Africa will have 450 million IoT connections by 2020 and this will impact enterprises and the industry.
This expected growth in IoT presents unprecedented opportunities for companies such as MTN. MTN has laid the solid foundations to be a partner of choice for IoT across the continent through the substantial investment it has made in its network, submarine cables, building its transmission network and the strategic partnerships it has entered into with the likes of Microsoft and Huawei to provide IoT solutions.
MTN SA’s growth strategy is underpinned by a focus on three main strategic drivers, namely transforming customer experience, improving employee engagement and driving business growth.
Following the industrial action that impacted on MTN’s operations in 2015, MTN made an undertaking to rebuild employer-employee relations and mend the internal structures in order to improve engagement with their most valuable asset—their employees.
“A lot of work has gone into improving these relations, including the establishment of internal structures that allow employees to make an input into the company’s strategy, regular engagements with the CEO and EXCO, regular roadshows, and departmental briefings.
“We have made considerable progress in enhancing MTN’s employer value proposition, but a lot still needs to be done in that area,” Nyati explains.
Customer-centricity lies at the heart of everything MTN does and they have pledged to improve the quality of the service rendered to their clients. To that end, they have adopted a hybrid call centre model, which entails outsourcing some of their call centre facilities to an experienced vendor and retaining others in-house. The process of migrating to a hybrid call centre model has been finalised, and the hybrid call model went live in October this year.
At MTN, they are acutely aware of the relationship between improved customer service and high performing networks. To that end, MTN has embarked on a network rollout programme that has significantly improved network quality and coverage along the freeways and national roads across the country.
This network optimisation programme is aimed at reducing dropped calls and boosting indoor coverage and speeds in high-density areas such as the malls.
“We have doubled LTE throughput speeds in the last 18 months and rolled out an additional 4 500 LTE sites in all the main cities across the country.
“In addition to expanding our LTE coverage, we have also improved our 3G coverage by deploying an additional 2 400 new 3G sites, we have expanded our fiber network footprint by rolling out 900 new fibers to site connections and we have installed 1 300 new physical sites to our network. Rural coverage was also improved during this period,” says Nyati.
Earlier this year, the MTN staff were on the brink of a protest, following the company’s decision to outsource some of its call centre facilities in order to streamline its operations. This decision meant that there was going to be operational changes. Human beings are creatures of habit, and this change was met by protestations from some employees. Under the leadership of the union, some of the affected employees threatened to lay down tools in protest against the move, but through constructive engagement, MTN managed to address the situation and reached an amicable agreement with the unions.
“We are bedding down and improving our internal communication structures, and we remain confident that we are reaching our goal of enhancing MTN’s employer value proposition,” Nyati explains.
In terms of challenges, Nyati says the non-availability of spectrum is one of the biggest challenges they are grappling with. Due to the unavailability of this precious resource, MTN has been compelled to re-farm the existing spectrum allocated to it in order to make provision for the rollout of new generation networks such as LTE and LTE-Advanced.
“The refarming of spectrum is an interim measure and it is something that needs to be done carefully so that it does not degrade voice services,” he says.
Another worrying factor is the proposals contained in the ICT White Policy Paper. Some of the proposed policy changes do not bode well for the development of South Africa’s ICT sector. For example, the policy proposes that high-demand spectrum is allocated to a wholesale open-access network (WOAN). Using the WOAN model adopted by Mexico, the adoption of the WOAN could provide access to the multitude of licences.
However, in its current format in accordance with the National Integrated ICT Policy White Paper, WOAN does not provide for infrastructure competition. As a result, WOAN will spawn the creation of a single monopoly provider, which would not bode well for the sustainability and competitiveness of the industry.
A single wireless open access network will constitute a monopoly provider. In the absence of competition, and using historical precedence as a guide, a monopoly of such a precious resource will lead to increased pricing, a deterioration of service delivery and it will dampen innovation.
In addition, MTN believes that the full allocation of high-demand spectrum to a yet-to-be-established wireless wholesale open access network is unwarranted and not in the best interests of the industry. Additional policy prescripts that existing spectrum assigned to operators be returned to the regulator, which is exceptionally worrying. The implementation of this policy will have a detrimental impact on operators.
The telecoms industry is evolving rapidly, and these changes influence consumer needs, behaviour and demands. It is, therefore, imperative that MTN remains relevant and in touch with consumer demands in order to remain sustainable.
New consumer and enterprise applications require the expansive rollout of high performing networks. However, due to delays in the allocation of high-demand spectrum, MTN is limited by the scope and extent to which it can expand its LTE coverage. MTN has been compelled to re-farm existing spectrum in order to roll out these new generation networks, but this is an interim measure that needs to be carefully managed so that it does not impact negatively on our ability to provide superior voice networks.
Nyati describes the aggressive network deployment that they have achieved in the last 18 months as one of MTN’s most outstanding achievements.
“We have managed to quadruple our LTE coverage, considerably increase our throughput speeds and have ramped up our network coverage and quality along the freeways and high-density areas across South Africa,” he concludes.