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[Column] Daniel Mausoof: Building a framework for neutral hosting in Middle East and Africa

[Column] Daniel Mausoof: Building a framework for neutral hosting in Middle East and Africa

Digital connectivity is synonymous with progress. As the United Nations highlights, it is for many people a basic service that connects them to health, welfare, education, financial services and more. It is the neural network behind the digital click of the button that opens the door to economic growth, citizen engagement and social equality.

However, in developing countries, only 70% of households have internet compared with 92% in developed countries. There is a need for increased connectivity to ensure that countries lagging on digital within the Middle East and Africa region are pulled forward into the digital age, benefitting from the social and economic advantages it has to offer.

In South Africa, the State IT Agency (SITA), has committed to the development of a national broadband project estimated at around R6 billion. The goal is to increase connectivity while reducing the costs across government, municipalities, and state agencies. As Communications Minister, Mondli Gungubele, stated in April 2024, SITA has committed to 98% core network availability across more than 7,500 connected government sites.

The initiative was set to establish 9,900 Wi-Fi hotspots across 16 districts in 2023 using its SA Connect programme and is running behind the commitment, highlighting the need for increased collaboration with key stakeholders alongside the use of neutral hosting and network sharing to drive momentum. This is already a key role played by Nokia in the Middle East and Africa with its strategic approach to neutral hosting as it narrows the digital gap and is aligned with the company’s mobile network strategy of connecting the unconnected.

It is an approach that can have immense impact across the MEA region, especially when in collaboration with leading organisations and government entities. Neutral hosting isn’t a new concept as multi-tenant solutions and network sharing have been prevalent in MEA. Today, however, the value of this approach lies in collaboration between agencies like SITA, communication service providers, data centre providers, and other stakeholders as everyone can pool resources and allow for the shared use of assets to impact coverage across rural and urban areas.

It is an intelligent move that benefits all stakeholders while simultaneously addressing the digital divide. Organisations already playing a lead role in this space, particularly with 4G and 5G technologies, can extend their solutions to address digital inequalities and ensure broader and more diverse connectivity. Using neutral hosting, companies can enhance their 5G densification, collaborate with enterprises for industry-specific coverage, and provide connectivity to underserved communities.

However, delivering impact and creating value aren’t guaranteed with this approach. There has to be shared commitment across organisations, such as SITA, to develop new business models that unite the ecosystem, foster dialogue and create a shared vision. Within this open framework it is far easier for stakeholders to discuss regulatory frameworks, avoid waste and infrastructure duplication, and adapt network sharing policies where relevant and possible.

One of the core benefits of a neutral hosting model is that it can recover network build costs through the hosting of multiple tenants – it frees up resources that can be redirected towards core business activities while empowering organisations to deliver exceptional services. It also helps to alleviate the challenge of capital scarcity – a challenge in the region – through the more economically viable option of sharing infrastructure, and when accompanied by the surging demand for data, it allows for intelligent network upgrading within economic boundaries.

Closing the digital gap isn’t just a technological challenge, it is a social and economic imperative that can launch the region into the future and allow it to fully realise its potential. It is essential that companies share this vision for growth and are committed to providing solutions that bridge the digital divide in Africa, Middle East and beyond. Neutral hosting and shared networks are a viable and intelligent step towards shared growth and development and can play a crucial role in reimagining the potential of the region.

Daniel Mausoof is the Market Head, Technology and Solutions for Mobile Networks, Middle East and Africa at Nokia.









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