MTN lights up SA’s digital highway with completion of coastal national long-distance cable project

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In a major boost for high-capacity telecoms services between coastal cities and the rest of South Africa, MTN has completed its part in the long-awaited Coastal National Long Distance (NLD) cable project, known in the industry as NLD 5 and NLD 6. MTN continues to innovate and close digital access gaps in South Africa, with a Network Capex spend of R50-billion over a period of five years. 

The fibre route starts in Cape Town, and runs along the N2, moves through Gqeberha and East London and then on to Durban. It offers an exciting alternative to existing fibre networks and older, slower options, and covers an impressive 1 822km while supporting several other sites. 

“The project gives MTN an opportunity to provide additional and significant capacity between coastal cities and the rest of South Africa, ensuring the digital world is brought one step closer for many more people,” says Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology & Information Officer at MTN SA. 

The NLD 5/6 project commenced over three years ago, constructed by Liquid Telecoms (Liquid Intelligent Technologies), with MTN as the key anchor investor. Apart from the benefits of fast, secure and stable connectivity, more capacity and high speeds, the NLD also forms part of the broader initiative by MTN to modernise its entire network in South Africa to ensure it is future ready and geared for a fourth industrial revolution and 5G future.  

“NLD 5/6 will enable us to deploy fibre-related connectivity to a wider South Africa population, particularly to previously disadvantaged rural and township communities. This is in addition to ACE (East Africa cable) and WACS (West Africa) cable projects that MTN Global Connect, the wholesale arm of MTN Group, is already driving as a key partner,” says Chiarelli. 

Closing connectivity gaps remains a challenge across large swathes of sub-Saharan Africa and the completion of this initiative will help connect the unconnected. The NLD will therefore serve as a major enabler of closing gaps in network coverage while providing current and future required capacity, which has kept so many people, businesses and communities disconnected from the benefits of the modern, digital world. 

There are now more than 3.8-billion mobile internet subscribers globally, representing 49% of the world’s population. However, according to GSMA’s 2020 Connected Society’s Mobile Connectivity survey, adoption has not been equitable, with mobile internet adoption standing at 26% in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2019. This means the region accounts for almost half of the global population not covered by a mobile broadband network. 

“MTN believes everyone deserves to enjoy the benefits of the modern, connected world and we are therefore extremely pleased to have reached this important milestone to enhance connectivity and provide more digital opportunities. The long-distance project has been complex, but it is thanks to the ongoing dedication and expertise of our teams of technicians and engineers that we are now able to truly light up the digital highway for all of South Africa,” says Chiarelli. 

The project connects several sites along the route, enabling higher speeds, resilience and better user experiences. Low latency, yet high capacity, will be a major boon for businesses seeking to harness innovative digital solutions, which require massive capacities. 

“The broad reach of this network means users in an area like Mthatha, now have much-needed reliable high-speed connectivity. It will have a huge impact on their lives, notably for those entrepreneurs and businesses looking to harness the benefits of new services enabled through like cloud-based technologies, which were previously beyond their reach,” explains Chiarelli. 

The high capacity transport network interconnects the east and west coast undersea cable systems, located in Mtunzini (EASSY), Dynefontein (ACE) and Yzerfontein (WACS), enabling seamless connectivity to the MTN network. Latency (delays) across established paths have experienced up to 50% improvement with respect to previously provided links from third-party providers. 

As witnessed through various independent mobile benchmarking companies, MTN continues to outperform its rivals in network quality with an average download speed of 64.29Mbps during the first three months of 2021, which is significantly better than the nearest competitor network that achieved an average download speed of 32.76Mbps. MTN was also crowned the Best Mobile Network in South Africa at the 2020 MyBroadband Awards. MTN outperformed all its competitors nationally and in all major cities in South Africa throughout the year to scoop the award. 

“The work does not stop now, with future network requirements including new technologies such as Segment Routing for efficient routing and network computational resource usage. At MTN, we are committed to improving the network experience of our customers. We look forward to welcoming many more users to the cutting-edge digital world now on our doorstep,” concludes Chiarelli. 

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