Africa Calling: Oracle Specialized Partner EU Technology builds hardware infrastructure for Airtel’s mobile solutions.
by Alison Weiss
Stability and performance are important to all mobile communications providers, where even a second of downtime has an impact on customer experience. But service reliability is even more critical for mobile providers in Africa, where cell phones are often the primary way people stay connected. To address this reality, executives at Airtel NIGER recently upgraded the hardware that supports their mobile communications applications, turning to Oracle Specialized Partner EU Technology to implement Oracle server and storage systems.
Airtel Africa, which includes Airtel NIGER and 15 other African Airtel subsidiaries, provides mobile and data services to an estimated 50 million customers across 16 African countries. Its parent company, Bharti Airtel Ltd., is a leading global telecommunications firm with headquarters in India and has a footprint in 19 countries across Africa and South Asia. Oumara Abdou Bouha, acting head of supply chain management at Airtel, says, “We need to bring affordability to our African customers, and by 2015 Airtel will be the most-loved brand in the daily lives of African people.”
Telecom operators in Africa must contend with reliability and technical efficiency issues, because most countries in the region have never had extensive landline-based telecommunications operations, and lack a strong internet infrastructure. Providers are under extreme pressure to maintain the reliability of their global mobile communications networks, because mobile phones are essential to the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom rely on their cell phones for services such as banking.
In fact, hardware reliability issues related to the platform supporting Airtel’s mobile banking applications prompted Airtel to seek out the help of EU Technology, which is based in the West African country of Côte d’Ivoire. Airtel executives recently introduced innovative mobile banking applications, but must ensure that the hardware platform can provide the requisite performance and stability. Previously, Airtel’s hardware backbone had been hindered by frequent system crashes.
Mobile banking via cell phones is easy to do in Africa. If you want to buy a bag of rice, you pay through a mobile banking transaction.
According to Frederic Rouvier, CEO of EU Technology, which has specialized in implementing Oracle’s Sun technology for seven years across a variety of industries, only 5 percent of people across Africa have bank accounts. “Mobile banking via cell phones is easy to do in Africa. If you want to buy a bag of rice, you pay through a mobile banking transaction and the merchant receives the money on his mobile phone account.”
In early 2010, EU Technology implemented Airtel’s telecommunications applications on two Sun SPARC Enterprise T5120 servers and four Sun Netra servers from Oracle. “The vast majority of telecom providers in African countries use Ericsson technologies,” says Rouvier, “and Ericsson works mainly on Sun servers, because the servers are the most reliable and offer the best performance.” Another reason Sun Netra servers were appealing for Airtel is that they function well in nontraditional data center environments.
Mark Butler, director of product management for Oracle’s Sun Netra systems, says, “We have extra capabilities on the Netra side to withstand and operate at wider temperature extremes and to withstand dusty environments, both of which are possible conditions on the African continent.”
The project was completed in May 2010. Since then EU Technology has continued to provide hardware support, and Rouvier reports that Airtel management is very happy with the performance and reliability improvements it has achieved.
Alison Weiss is a regular contributor to Profit.