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Interview: “It’s tough for telcos to address the African market”

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Interview: "Its tough for telcos to address the African market"
Rajesh Mishra, Co-Founder, President and CTO, Parallel Wireless.

IT News Africa recently spoke to Rajesh Mishra, Co-Founder, President and CTO, Parallel Wireless, in an interview which looked to identify the challenges facing the African telecommunications landscape.

Rajesh is the Co-Founder of Parallel Wireless, a telecoms network infrastructure company looking to reimagine the RAN and building solutions that will enable and accelerate the long-term transition from today’s 4G LTE to tomorrow’s 5G cellular networks.

Rajesh co-founded the company after over 21 years in the telecoms industry where he became an industry pioneer in convergence technologies. He led the development of next-gen VoLTE and 3G/4G Femtocell convergence servers at Tatara, led the transformation of the first commercial Softswitch into a Wireless MSC product at Bell Labs/Lucent, reimagined cable IMS servers at Cedarpoint, and led a commercial mobile ad hoc networks (MANETS) development at Powerwave Cognition.

Rajesh spoke to IT News Africa about Parallel Wireless’s presence in Africa, the concerns facing African service providers, what inspired him to start Parallel Wireless, are providers ready for 5G and if the traditional telecoms structures in Africa are able to reach the requirements needed of them.

1. What is your presence in Africa and which telcos are you working with?
We are working with several large and small telecom operators in the continent. Parallel Wireless has active deployments in Ghana, DRC, Senegal, South Africa, Gambia, Nigeria and Tunisia. We are hoping to make some of these deployments public very soon. We also have a sales office in Ghana.

2. What are the major concerns of African service providers? How are their concerns different from telcos in the other parts of the world?
Service providers across the globe want to maximise their revenue and reduce their capital and operational expenditure. Even so, the African service providers face some unique challenges and their concerns are vastly different from telcos in the other regions.

A critical issue here is lack of affordable power supply, which is a significant hindrance in the expansion of telecom networks. The service providers are struggling with the non-availability of reliable power supply. For instance, in Rwanda, only 18% of people have full access to electricity.

The second key issue is extremely low Average Revenue Per User (ARPU), which makes it extremely challenging for mobile operators to justify the high cost of network deployment and maintenance. The low-paying capacity of the subscribers makes it extremely tough for the telcos to offer the latest and best services. Subscribers sometimes pay as much as ten times of their salary for broadband when compared with the rest of the world.

3. What inspired you to start Parallel Wireless and where do you see the company five years from now?
After working for years in various organisations and securing many patents, I believed there was a gap in the market. The traditional networks were woefully incapable of meeting the demands of networks in a developing country. I, along with other partners from Parallel Wireless, wanted to come up with technological solutions, which not only bring down the cost of deployment but are also easy to deploy. We basically wanted to reimagine the networks/RAN!

Parallel Wireless is recording a healthy growth over the last few years. We have been doubling our workforce every few years, and we are confident of maintaining this momentum over the next few years. Our products are now deployed in more than 30 networks across six continents.

Beyond this, we want to be known for our innovations, which we believe inspire telcos to rethink their network strategy. We want to continue to come up with innovative solutions to help service providers address the key issues being faced by them today.

4. Do you think the networks here are ready for the next generation technologies like 5G, Internet of Things, and smart cities?
The service providers would need to make considerable changes in their networks, so they are ready for the 5G era. It calls for changes at all levels. The networks of the future need to be agile, flexible and scalable to meet the demands of the always-connected world.

We also believe that in spite of new technologies, 2G is going to be around for a long time in the developing markets. The service providers need a new approach towards 2G. The GSMA report says that 60% of the subscribers in Africa currently use the 2G network and around 43% of the subscribers will be using 2G by 2020. That said, 2G in its old form will not be able to meet the current needs. However, if it leverages modern-day concepts like Virtualisation and allows easy migration to 4G when the subscribers are ready will help African service providers.

5. Africa faces some very unique problems. Do you think the traditional telecom equipment and strategy will be able to meet the requirements of the African market?
The same solutions are unlikely to work for very different problems. Population density, connectivity requirement of the people in the continent and the low paying capacity, all are very different from the realities of the developed world. Frequent power outages and limited backhaul further make it tough for the telcos to address the market. The traditional capital-intensive network is unlikely to work in these situations.

A fundamentally different approach is the need of the hour. The service providers need to rethink their network strategy to meet their requirements. They can explore alternate sources of energy, like solar and wind to resolve the power issue. Besides, easy-to-install and community managed network will help them address the evolving market needs. Efficient use of modern concepts like automation and cloud will further help in bringing down the expenditure.

By Dean Workman
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