MTN has been in the news a lot lately – not always for reasons the company might like – but among the less-reported news is the fact that MTN Business, which looks after the company’s high-value enterprise customers, has been quietly changing and growing to tackle a range of new challenges. Kathy Gibson spoke to the company’s business development manager Greg Hatfield about the new directions the company is taking.
The MTN Group is arguably Africa’s largest telecommunications player, with operations in countries across the continent. But, while it may be best known for its cellular business, this is by no means the only services it offers.
Of course, the consumer business is massive, and has seen opened up the vast African continent to MTN, but MTN Business offers a variety of services to its enterprise customers – and it’s in the throes of further expanding these.
Greg Hatfield, business development manager at MTN Business, explains that the new-look MTN Business is actually an amalgamation of all of the group’s enterprise components, bringing together the existing Internet service provider (ISP) with the enterprise mobility services.
The entity is led by Alpheus Mogale, previously country manager at Cisco and, as such, well-versed in the challenges and opportunities within the enterprise space.
Hatfield points out the MTN and MTN Business have been extremely successful over the last two decades by focusing on the mobile market, with services for both consumers and enterprise users.
However, this market is not only rapidly reaching saturation point, but the use case for mobile devices is seeing fast and radical change too. “These cash cows are reaching maturity and are not as profitable as they used to be,” he says.
MTN Business saw the need to re-invent itself, to develop a strategy of growth that plays on its strengths and ensures that it won’t be left behind in a changing market.
Over the last 18 months it has been building and refining its strategy, and is now positioned to tackle the market as a full-service ICT partner of choice, with a full end-to-end solution offering.
This could be seen as an ambitious target, but Hatfield is confident that the company has most of the foundations in place, and is well-positioned to achieve its goals.
The company is already one of the largest ISPs on the continent, and this means it has a wealth of resources in the data centre and communications spheres, and is rapidly building its IT capacity.
For a start, MTN owns and operates no fewer than 47 data centres spanning 23 countries in Africa, many of them Tier 2, 3 or 4 facilities. “No-one entering the ICT market now could hope to build this kind of capacity,” Hatfield says. This infrastructure is in place courtesy of the mobile business, and make MTN unique in Africa in having these resources.
The company has also made a considerable investment in fibre rollout across the continent. Again, this infrastructure was put in place largely to complement the mobile operations, but is available for MTN Business and its customers. “The fibre puts us in a good position,” Hatfield points out. “We are in a position to provide mobile capacity and LTE in most of the markets we operate in.
“Our aspiration is to be one of the leading service providers in the market,” Hatfield affirms. “We don’t want to stay as a mobile telco or ISP, but to build our systems integration capacity.”
MTN Business is actively building up skills in the ICT space, and is on the acquisition trail for value-added resellers (VARs) or systems integrators (SIs) that fit its growth strategies.
“We are very ambitious and believe we can do it,” Hatfield says. “We’ve already made huge strides, and have also forged partnerships where our own skills don’t match the customers’ requirements.
“The combination of assets we have in place puts us in a position where we can be ambitious. We are better able to plug any IT holes than if we were approaching our goal from the other side and had to find the infrastructure – we wouldn’t be able to replicate what we have.”
MTN Business is focusing its enterprise offerings in five core areas.
The first is managed networks, taking advantage of the group’s extensive infrastructure roll-out, with a variety of services layered on top.
The second focus area is cloud computing, which will be built on MTN’s data centre assets. The initial offerings are infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS), but these will quickly move up the stack to software as a service (SaaS). The company is already partnering with a number of organisations, like Microsoft and Amazon, to put these facilities in place.
Unified communications is the third focus area, adding to MTN’s traditional offerings to include a range of integrated voice and data services including IP, contact centres, PBX, SIP and a variety of mobile services.
Security is core to enterprise ICT requirements, and MTN Business plans to offer a range of security offerings that address every layer of the ICT stack.
The fifth, and possible more ambitious, focus area embraces the realm of the Internet of Things (IoT). As it’s a new trend, there are few IoT experts in the field, but Hatfield believes MTN Business has got a head start thanks to its existing machine-to-machine (M2M) network, and the skills it has built up around that.
MTN already runs a separate M2M network which allows companies to monitor and manage their connected devices without roaming challenges and without impacting on the existing voice and data networks.
“This network gives us an IoT platform to work from,” Hatfield says. “It’s a brick in the wall, and we can start with it.” Today, the M2M network is used primarily to connect telemetry and point of sale (POS) devices. “There are a few million SIMs out there,” Hatfield says.
The services offered – and the devices connected – are not particularly intelligent at this stage, but this will change in the near future as resources are added. “We are aiming to go after specific vertical industries, developing specific IoT solutions for specific business challenges.”
Smart cities is the first IoT focus area, and includes solutions ranging from energy management to smart traffic flow, water and waste reticulation.
Fleet management is another area that should be able to see quick returns on IoT implementations, including logistics and asset tracking.
Smart grid is another focus area, as is the whole field of smart buildings, which is being enabled through the current roll-out of fibre to the office and fibre to the home.
Asset management, including track and trace, is another area that will benefit hugely from IoT. This would include functions like predictive maintenance, environmental management, and intelligent monitoring, management and reporting.
Some of the IoT solutions area already in play, Hatfield points out, although widescale integration is still not a reality. Smart metering has been deployed in many areas, a number of emergency services in Africa use smart devices; there is some autonomous vehicle deployment in mining; and there is a wildlife tracking pilot underway.
“We are seeing a number of early forays in a few industries,” Hatfield says. “But it takes the right kind of company to be able to innovate. Part of the challenge is in getting the right coalition together for change management.
“Many of a company’s most pressing challenges, which could be solved with IoT solutions, are not in IT – but IT needs to facilitate the technology to meet their needs.
“No-one can really own the IoT solution. Companies have to get a variety of people around the table, and this takes time.
“IoT is a very exciting new area, but we are really at the beginning of it now. There are no pre-packaged solutions available at this stage, but we hope that we will get there in a couple of years’ time.”
MTN currently runs the M2M network on LoRa technology, but is also closely following the NB-IoT (Narrow-Band IoT) standards that will allow IoT traffic to be run on the existing telecommunications networks.
MTN Business is already a healthy and growing part of the greater MTN Group, Hatfield says – and he’s confident that it will see more growth and success in the coming years as it implements its new strategies. In the last financial year, MTN business enjoyed 12% growth, compared to group growth of 3%.
The strategy going forward is for MTN Business to drive the group’s growth, says Hatfield. “The plan is to achieve significant, consistent growth. The business has been undersized considering the assets at our disposal – if we can bring all these assets to bear, the future is going to be very exciting.”