MTN picks partners to expand mobile OpenRAN network in Africa

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JOHANNESBURG, June 16 (Reuters) - South Africa's mobile and broadband operator MTN Group (MTNJ.J) has selected five partners to launch an open radio access network (OpenRAN) in Africa to expand 4G and 5G services more quickly and cheaply, it said on Wednesday.

A radio access network (RAN) connects individual devices to other parts of a network through radio connections.

MTN said it aimed to roll out OpenRAN by the end of 2021 with its partners, namely Voyage, India's Tech Mahindra (TEML.NS) and U.S.-based firms Altiostar, Mavenir and Parallel Wireless.

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In the past, network equipment from Nokia (NOKIA.HE), Ericsson (ERICb.ST), Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [RIC:RIC:HWT.UL] and other firms was largely proprietary, making it difficult to mix.

But U.S. government restrictions that have hit Huawei's ability to source chips have sped the adoption of so-called openRAN technology, where any vendor can assemble industry-standard chips and software to create inter-operable networking gear.

"This is a real game-changer for mobile advancement in emerging markets," said Amith Maharaj, MTN group's head of network planning and design.

For mobile network operators, a radio access network makes up the bulk of capital and operating costs.

MTN said it would reduce power consumption and emissions by modernising its radio access networks using OpenRAN, supporting its target to achieve net zero emissions by 2040.

MTN, the largest telecommunications operator in Africa by subscribers, first rolled out open-source technology in 2019 to improve rural coverage. It has deployed over 1,100 commercial sites in more than 11 countries.

MTN has 277.9 million subscribers across Africa and the Middle East.

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Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Edmund Blair

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