The surge in internet usage mainly on social media among other day to day activities has resulted in an exponential increase in demand for bandwidth which in turn is exerting pressure on networks in Zimbabwe.
A decade ago, people were not as glued to their phones since there were no over the top services (OTT) such as WhatsApp, Twitter etc which have taken internet by storm. These services among other necessities such as mobile money as championed by OneMoney and Ecocash, were also not yet discovered.
But fast forward to today, the terrain has shifted, demand for reliable and up to date network provision is now a necessity in communication and transacting. These phenomena have brought with it enormous pressure on service providers to both widen their coverage as well as deepen their systems so as to carter for both growth in demand and intensity in usage.
Although players in this space have put in hefty sums to develop and upgrade their equipment, the upgrades have broadly been outpaced by the growth in usage as measured by such statistics as internet penetration and mobile phones penetration.
Most of the networks systems run on outdated software and hardware which do not support latest next generation technologies. The outdated equipment relies on Traditional Secure Shell (SSH) and telnet Command Line (CLI) configuration or standalone Graphical User Interface (GUI) configurations. The 2 are examples of second generation technology which has mainly been out phased.
This traditional approach to networking does not scale well with increasing demand in network size and amount of data to be configured. This is why Zimbabweans are always crying foul on the poor service delivery by these local Mobile Network Operators.
Consequently, telecom operators should look at investing in additional modern equipment to their networks so as to boost capacity, efficiency and coverage.
Looking at the subscribers base, there is a lot of traffic movement generated from mobile money transfers, Internet usages and Voice calls. All these applications access different databases and servers.
According to the GSM association, 85% of connections in Sub Saharan Africa still use 2G networks as 3G and 4G networks are in early stages of deployment. At the same time, those early-stage networks are experiencing faster growth than other parts of the world.
Whilst the numbers are constantly going up in Zimbabwe, according to 2018: Q2 of Potraz, active mobile subscriptions totalled to 12,152,471, but it seems like Zimbabwe’s Service Providers are still progressively investing in their infrastructure through traditional upgrades and updates to their networks.
For instance, you will find that in the quarter under review by Potraz (2018:Q2), some MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) are still investing in 2G base stations, in a research conducted by Eyetro Digital, we found that very few users are still using 2G compatible phones, the research also showed that 4/5 of people with smartphones are using 4G/LTE compatible phones.
In a report, Zimbabwe service provider were urged to invest much in Software Defined Network (networking technology is an approach to cloud computing that facilitates network management and enables programmatically efficient network configuration in order to improve network performance and monitoring.)
Why should Telcos move to SDNs
SDN has emerged as a focal point of next-generation network architecture management. In SDN networks, control and forwarding are separated and a centralized software-managed controller makes forwarding decisions.
SDN come in with several benefits, and Telcos must choose their best fit as entry to the technology. The SDx revolution has seen the introduction of software defined network, software defined WAN, software defined radio, software defined datacenter and the list goes on.
5G introduction is SDN centric and Telcos must move towards 5G radio access networks to realise the benefits of next generation networks. Regionally service provider Telcos and other institutes have started the adoption of SDN, Vodacom in South Africa and AWS in South Africa started the implementation of SDN. AWS uses SDN, APIs and controllers to onboard clients to the cloud.
“SDN is the future of networking and there is no going back,” says Cathy Smith, GM for Cisco Southern Africa.
The old ways of networks are associated with many shortcomings which are high cost deployment, manual diagnosis, decentralized control and also less adaptive to change. Its advantage is that it doesn’t bring a new language to networking, rather it rides on existing scripting and programming languages such as python, XML and JSON among others.
SDN enhances automation, all tasks from network configuration, management, Security information and event management (SIEM), applications and services are automated. SDN provides for an intelligent network that operates as a sensor, a network that can heal itself, that can adapt to workload. Intelligent networks increases efficiency and service delivery through optimization of resources and workload.
SDN controllers removes compatibility issues associated with traditional computing, it uses data models for device interoperability, the Yet Another Next Generation
(YANG) data modern and YAML (a human-readable data serialization language) data model are examples of data models that are used to model data such that a Juniper router can communicate with a Cisco router, this enhance vendor interoperability and removes decentralized network management.
Zimbabwe has since realized an exponential growth in subscribers base over the last five years and a new systems approach is needed to replace the old traditional approach to networking. Traditional approaches are prone to vulnerabilities and requires high human intervention to patch systems every now and then. SDN controllers can integrate with intelligent grid of devices worldwide to identify vulnerabilitie4s and automatically implement counter measures. This creates a next generation network that is intelligent and secure.
According to One Network Foundation (ONF) the use of Application Programming Interface (APIs) to communicate provides a more secure and robust way in data movement and management. APIs allow device to device communication, implementing encryption and authentication in the process. Authentication and Encryption can be configured to use powerful algorithms such as SHA384 and AES 256.
“The best time to implement SDN is when adding a new network, creating new services or when current equipment is at the end of its lifecycle. All in, network operators that embrace SDN will find themselves in far better competitive positions.”