Airtel Strengthens Strategic Mobile Communications Networks Across Africa
Stability and performance are important to all mobile communications service providers, but these issues are critical for companies providing services in regions of the world like Africa where mobile phones are the only way the majority of people stay connected. Airtel NIGER recently decided to upgrade the hardware platform it uses to host its mobile communications applications. The company looked to Oracle partner EU Technology to implement Oracle server and storage systems to provide the reliability and performance boosts necessary to support Airtel’s thriving mobile communications services.
Airtel Africa provides mobile and data services to an estimated 50 million customers across 16 countries in Africa. 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.”
A 2009 survey by Ernst & Young suggests that Airtel is targeting a thriving market, with survey results showing that the telecom industry in Africa between 2002 and 2007 recorded a growth rate of 49.3 percent. (itnewsafrica.com/2009/02/africas-telecom-industry-is-fastest-growing/) The survey also showed that 88 percent of respondents believe that regulatory bodies are not strong enough, and this leads to bottlenecks in providing telecommunications services, a finding Bouha agrees with. He says, “There are issues on the regulatory side faced by Airtel across Africa.”
Telecom operators in Africa must also contend with reliability and technical efficiency issues because most countries in the region have never had extensive landline-based telecommunications operations, nor do they have 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 recently introduced innovative mobile banking applications and it needed to make sure its hardware platform could provide the requisite performance and stability. Previously, Airtel’s hardware backbone had been hindered by frequent system crashes.
According to Frederic Rouvier, CEO at EU Technology, which has specialized in implementing Oracle’s Sun technology for seven years across a variety of industries, only five 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 the merchant though 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 Oracle’s Sun SPARC Enterprise T5120 servers and four Oracle’s Sun Netra X4250 servers. “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.” Oberthur Technologies managed the software for the project.
Mark Butler, director of product management for Oracle Sun Netra Systems, says, “The Netra product line is very successful supporting mobile phone infrastructures around the world.” In particular, Sun Netra servers provide the ability to manage additional bandwidth and processing requirements that come from implementing more complicated applications, as well as growing demand from subscribers. Butler adds, “Scalability is very important. Providers have to be ready to scale and take advantage of whatever is going on in the network.”
Sun Netra servers were also appealing for Airtel because they function well in nontraditional data center environments. Butler adds, “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. Sun Netra servers can also withstand vibrations and even earthquakes much better than a standard sever can.”
The project was completed in May 2010. Since then, EU Technology has continued to provide hardware support and Rouvier reports that Airtel has been very happy with the performance and reliability improvements it has achieved, confirming that the servers have had no problems and there have been no shutdowns or issues with troubleshooting.
EU Technology is already working with other customers to investigate similar Sun server solutions for their businesses. Recently, the company began working with a bank in Niger, Banque Agricole du Niger, to implement new Sun servers, and it is holding conferences and seminars to publicize Oracle’s Sun server solutions in a variety of nearby countries. “We want to make customers understand that Oracle is the best technology approach now,” Rouvier says. “Oracle is very well-known in sub-Saharan African countries. Sun Microsystems was not well-known outside of telecom and banking, but now with the Oracle name, I’m optimistic about growth because Oracle is the leader in technology innovation.”