28 May 2015

Benefits Of SDN & NFV For African Fixed And Mobile Operators

By George Debbo, GD Telecom, Chairman of the SDN & Network Virtualisation stream at AfricaCom 2015

In October 2012 a group of Tier 1 Operators from Europe, North America and Asia got together at a Conference in Darmstadt Germany to discuss and ultimately announce a new industry initiative on Network Functions Virtualization (NFV). The discussion was prompted by the fact that the group clearly felt that the current method of deploying networks, which involves installing physically made-for-purpose boxes, had to change because of the enormous pressures that were being applied to the industry. These pressures included the continual threat from Over the Top (OTT) service providers, as well as the pressure to reduce costs and significantly increase agility and speed by which services are created and deployed.

The concept of virtualization was drawn from what had already been used in the IT industry for a number of years, and included discussion on software defined networking (SDN) and OpenFlow. The discussions resulted in the creation and publication of a White Paper, as well as the formulation of an ETSI Industry Study Group (ISG) in November 2012.

NFV involves de-coupling the associated network function from its proprietary hardware, and running this function as software on a server. Thus network functions, which today are provided on made-for-purpose hardware, can now run as software over generic pieces of hardware, such as off-the-shelf layer 2 switches and routers.

SDN, which is a complimentary technology to NFV, separates the control plane from the physical forwarding plane, thus allowing network control to become directly programmable and the underlying infrastructure to be abstracted for applications and network services.

Since the formation of the ETSI ISG in November 2012 there has been a groundswell of activity within the industry around SDN &NFV, both within operators and vendors, but predominantly within North America and Europe. A number of North American and European operators and service providers have indicated their intentions and plans to virtualize large portions of their network. An example is AT&T who have developed their Domain 2.0 Program, which has the intention to virtualize and control more than 75% of their network by 2020 using a software driven architecture.

The activity within the ETSI ISG has resulted in the following deliverables:
  • The release of 17 specifications and standards
  • The formulation of a list of NFV Use Cases
  • A number of Proof of Concepts being run around the world, an example of which was Spain’s Telefonica who demonstrated an end-to-end advanced and multi-media implementation of the ETSI NFV architecture, with intelligent orchestration of resources, at this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Infonetics Research has predicted that the SDN & NFV market will grow to $11 billion by 2018.

What are the benefits for African Operators? Generally the business and network operation within African Operators is characterized by the following:
  • Low coverage and penetration but with enormous capacity demands
  • A limited skills base with respect to technical personnel
  • Auxiliary infrastructure (such as grid power and environmental facilities) not supportive of deploying sophisticated and intelligent telecommunication systems, especially in the rural areas.
SDN & NFV can solve the above challenges as a result of the following:
  • As functionality is now performed in software, this can be deployed in areas were the auxiliary infrastructure is available and maintained, and more importantly in areas were skilled personnel are available such as cities or major towns.
  • Again, as functionality is now performed in software the process required to dynamically ramp up capacity is much simpler and quicker, thus allowing operators to easily respond to demand which is difficult to predict.
  • Ultimately the costs (both opex and capex) will come down due to the economies of scale associated with using off-the-shelf hardware (such as layer 2 routers and switches) as well as the use of open interfaces and standards associated with SDN &NFV.
NFV also supports the concept of multi-version and multi-tenancy which allows the use of a single platform for different applications, users and tenants. Such an ability allows operators to share resources across services and across different customers.

George will be speaking in the SDN & Network Virtualization Stream at AfricaCom this 17-19th November 2015. To find out more and to pre-register, visit: http://africa.comworldseries.com/

26 May 2015

African content - the VAS opportunity for startups

By Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder Disrupt Africa

The opportunity presented by the value added services (VAS) market for startups across Africa is phenomenal, as demand for quality African content grows in tandem with mobile and internet uptake.

To date only 19 per cent of Africa’s 1 billion-strong population is online according to the International Data Corporation (IDC). The flipside of this statistic is the sheer size of the untapped market - a market of consumers who are (not-so-)slowly, but surely, coming online and will demand quality content when they arrive.

Africa also has the fastest growing middle class in the world, with McKinsey estimating Africa’s consumer spending will hit US$1.4 trillion within the next five years.

What these figures say to me is that in Africa we’re at the dawn of an era with the potential to be characterised by a booming VAS market - and I think that market will be led by the continent’s outstanding startups, and the key will be localised African content.

Of course, as a news website we at Disrupt Africa believe in the future of online written content in Africa, and day-to-day we see the demand for a source of quality, engaging written content pertaining to Africa’s success stories.

Africa wants to hear about new ideas and new opportunities; the continent wants to engage with the business sector, read about successes, and glean advice. The call for online written content catering to an African audience is most definitely there.

But by all means leave the written market for us! Opportunity presents itself for African content across media channels.

The rise of video-on-demand in Africa - fuelled by startups and small businesses - is testament to the growing demand for video services.  Traditional television providers are already playing catch-up, trying to reinvent themselves to remain competitive within the new market.  

However, it’s the smaller home-grown companies, close to the ground and quick to respond, which can grab the opportunity of video-on-demand with both hands.  Africa’s own innovators are offering African video content services which speak directly to the market’s desires; and via the devices the market likes (ahem, mobile).  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go and check out Wabona.

Africa will forever be the home of music, a fact which screams only one question: where are all the innovative music services? Why don’t the continent’s music lovers have access to all the content they want, whenever they want it, in the format they want it, at a cost they like?

There are people out there trying, yes. But the market is still wide-open, and the opportunity for startups to jump in and create a VAS offering that will be indispensable for African consumers is very real. Just ask Mdundo.

My last mention goes to the social media opportunity.  Startups with a bit of social media savvy - the world is yours for the taking.  Africa has 1 billion people, 720 million of them have mobile devices. Both of those numbers are growing.  People like to chat, to engage, to share stuff.  That’s a potential critical mass for an awesome new African social media platform ripe for the taking.  

So startups, get to work! And come and talk to Disrupt Africa as soon as you get your idea off the ground.

Disrupt Africa are an official media partner for VAS Africa 2015. VAS Africa will be taking place this 30 June - 1 July in Johannesburg, South Africa. For more information or to register, visit: http://vasafrica.comworldseries.com/