MTN: Embracing the Digital Future

Release Date:2020-03-24 Author:Reporter: Fahad Nisar Click:



"We are a digital first, cloud-first business," said MTN Group CTIO Charles Molapisi during a recent interview with ZTE Technologies, focusing mainly on MTN's Oxygen strategy that is crucial to its digital transformation. MTN is a South African multinational telecom company that operates in more than 20 countries and is the leading mobile operator in Africa. Ready for a new phase of development, it is pursuing the vision of leading the delivery of a bold, new digital world to its customers.

MTN is growing quite rapidly and has been quite successful recently. Could you share with us the secret to your success?

I think we really have to give credit to different teams, starting with the South African team that has achieved fantastic performance. The Nigerian team is fighting quite decently to regain our position on the data side. You can also look what our team is achieving in Ghana.   

We've also got a very strong leadership of MTN that is providing good steering to the business, very clear direction and much clearer strategy.

The third aspect is investment. In South Africa, we have an investment profile. Large investments we've made over the last three years are starting to bear fruits. 

Therefore, the secret to our success lies in the teams, the leadership and the appetite to invest in the business.

One of the evidence to MTN's success is the Oxygen strategy. Could you tell us how you drive and implement this strategy in the local market?

The Oxygen program is a fusion of internal programs. We've consolidated all our programs into one super program which seeks to create a predictable architecture that is open and futuristic. The architecture is also based on the levels of channel, IT, enterprise and business capabilities, network and operations. It is a complex program. But we believe that we could implement it across our markets. We are using what we call the "Oxygen index level", which means that we assess the capability of each market to see how a market stacks up in terms of the Oxygen capabilities. Once we are able to demonstrate the gap, we can work with an operating company (OpCo). We are very excited about the prospects of what we can achieve with the Oxygen program.

The acronym "Oxygen" begins with agile operations and digital experience, which speaks volumes about the importance of AI and digital technologies for MTN. How do you see digital transformation?

We are a digital-first, cloud-first business. Digital transformation can be achieved through three layers. The first layer is the commercial aspect of the revolution in terms of new revenue streams, processes and channels. 

The second layer is the digital capability layer, which consists of platforms, systems, technologies, and the network. As the capability layer, it helps fulfill the first layer's objectives. 

At the bottom is the foundation layer, which we call the cultural layer. It is the agile way of working. 

So for digital transformation, we first think of business processes and diversification of businesses. Then consider the middle-level capabilities and systems. And at the bottom, we've got culture and people to enable and tie them.  

Virtualization is another buzzword in the market. In the context of MUNIC strategy, it is a part of the Oxygen strategy. How do you see that?

The MUNIC plan is a unified cloud program. We have two types of workloads in the business: the network workloads which traditionally sit on the core network, and the traditional IT workloads. Most traditional appliance-based platforms on the core network are moving towards commercial off-the-shelf platforms. So most of the platforms are becoming IT-based.

The MUNIC strategy seeks to unify two worlds: the telco cloud and the IT cloud. We have progressed quite well if you look at the IT virtualization and cloudification. I believe that we will be able to achieve our ambitions of creating an architecture that is predictable and agile. That is very cost-effective. In the end, you'll see an ability to orchestrate workloads between traditional telco clouds and IT clouds and use common resources to manage the IT workloads and the telco workloads.

For telcos, the major challenges are centered on user experience, technology migration, and spectrum. How is MTN positioned in the context 
of all the challenges it faces?

If you look at the scale of our business, the number of our operating markets and the scale of our network, you'll see the extent of our investments. As far as technology is concerned, we injected about 2 billion dollars in Capex on IT and networks in 2019. We cover a high percentage of the population in many markets, for example, we cover 95 percent of the population for 4G in South Africa, 40 percent in Nigeria, and 58 percent 

in Ghana. We are excited about the achievements, and I believe that despite significant challenges we face, MTN is well positioned to manage the revolution of the industry and meet the demands of the industry.

MTN and ZTE have been together for more than a decade. It's a great journey. How do you see ZTE as a partner?

Let me start by saying thank you to ZTE for the partnership over the years. It is not something that we take lightly. We are an orchestrator and integrator of different types of technologies to deliver the service to our customers. I'm just grateful for all the fantastic work that ZTE has done, particularly in the Western Cape and in Nigeria. We are committed to the partnership, largely because of the responsiveness and ZTE's technologies. We hope ZTE would help us move into 5G.

What is the most important 5G use case for you?

Globally, you tend to see big potential in use cases like AR/VR, smart city and smart manufacturing. But because of the lack of fiber in our markets, our choice may be on fixed wireless. I think we have a better chance to bring cheaper connectivity to homes and into enterprises. So I think that FWA would make a big difference. Of course, we can talk about eMBB, but you have to deal with the device ecosystem as well. We are very practical about the extent  of the application of 5G. We see it as a targeted investment case. Certainly, we have opportunities to make exceptional achievements as the country evolves and more devices come onto the ecosystem.