Thought leadership – Challenges shaping strategy: impact of logistical realities on the African towerco
The telecommunications industry in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has seen tremendous growth in recent years and the upwards curve of mobile data demand is heading skywards. By 2028, the region is expected to have a total of 689 million smartphone subscribers, up from 415 million in 2022 and constituting well over half of the region’s 1.2 billion population.
The economic and societal impacts of such connectivity are profound, boosting the region’s productivity, employment rate and improving access to education and the global economy. In fact, the GSMA predicts that mobile technologies will add $155 billion of economic value to SSA by 2025.
However, the impressive benefits of mobile connectivity are matched by the challenges to deliver it. Operations in Europe and the US benefit from ubiquitous power and on the whole urban environments. Towercos in SSA have some of the biggest opportunities for growth, but they also face operating in some of the harshest and most unique environments. As the backbone infrastructure required for high bandwidth, reliable networks, towercos must lean on the latest technologies to overcome logistical pressures, support efficiency and decarbonize operations.
Fuel, transport and embracing renewable energy and efficiency
As the telecommunications industry commits to reducing its emissions through science-based targets, SSA towercos have a particular challenge when it comes to fuel and transport requirements.
Networks span vast and extreme terrains. Some sites are 3,500 km from the nearest port where fuel is delivered and poor road conditions exacerbate transportation costs and fuel use. A weak power grid infrastructure means about half the towers in the region still largely depend on diesel generators for power supply, another major issue compounded by high fuel prices and persistent shortages.
There’s a growing trend of pioneering sustainability practices, with an emphasis on sustainable tactics such as optimizing energy efficiency, harnessing renewable energy, and implementing lithium-battery energy storage systems. However, without adopting a real-time data-centric model, full benefits remain untapped.
Thanks to recent and rapid advances in technologies such as Machine Learning (ML), AI and automation, towercos can observe site energy production and fuel usage and, based on specifics of the site, draw from hybrid energy sources to maximize use of renewables. For example, smart systems can integrate with weather forecasting tools to predict energy demand and prioritise solar capture, storage and generator load. Less diesel use means less expensive and carbon heavy fuel deliveries to remote, far reaching locations, further driving down overall CO2 emissions.
OVERCOMING THE CONNECTIVITY CHALLENGE: INSIGHT FROM OTHERS
Data analytics is a proven tool to deal with business issues and a reliable methodology to make informed decisions. The rapid advancements in Big Data, data science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation has allowed intelligent systems to bring game changing benefits to almost all industries.
Technological innovations are powering a major digital transformation in the wider telecommunications industry. By attaining data transparency throughout their supply chain and accounts payable processes, telecom organizations are benefitting from a comprehensive overview of internal operations. This not only provides a thorough understanding of existing inefficiencies but also enables the implementation of AI and ML tools to generate recommendations for process improvement and automation. This has the potential to reduce human capital costs and enhance the quality of available data in the future.
By acquiring and applying knowledge about customers’ profiles and usage patterns, telecom companies are also enhancing customer satisfaction and reducing expenses. Providers can identify customers who are more likely to encounter payment difficulties, allowing for preemptive measures. This helps to increase recurring revenue streams and aids in better managing a stable customer base. Customers who are on the verge of contributing to churn can be offered early renewal proposals or tailored product placements.
In the network, telco providers are leveraging data-driven insights to anticipate network issues and deliver predictive maintenance. Everything along the network – from customers’ home boxes all the way to data centre servers – is now monitored and analysed to deliver short term benefits to network performance as well as longer term strategic ambitions concerning new customer experiences and growth.
In the retail sector, Amazon gathers data from each of its consumers via its website, virtual assistants such as Alexa, recommendations, one-click ordering and anticipatory shipping model. With over 1 million requests landing on Amazon Web store alone every second, the incredible scale of data collection is clear. Big data analytics is then deployed to optimize supply chain and prices, identify signs of fraud, encourage customer behavior and change and adapt physical stores.
A data-driven approach to farming is also enhancing the productivity and sustainability of the industry. The industry increasingly relies on data science and the emergence of digital technologies to enhance operations and outcomes. Bayer has developed an application that employs ML and AI to identify weeds. Farmers capture weed images, which are then matched against a comprehensive Bayer database of around 100,000 photos to detect the weed species. The app then intervenes at the right time to protect crops and improve yields. This increases output, reduces costs and minimizes the environmental impact of agriculture.
TOWARD AN EFFICIENT AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
TowerCos are 5-10 years behind other industries when it comes to harnessing the power of data. Yet mobile connectivity is crucial to the development and deployment of next-generation technologies that underpin such examples of Industry 4.0. Just as farmers use large data sets to identify and manage weeds before they impact their crops, TowerCos must spot efficiencies throughout their network to improve operational efficiency and minimize OPEX.
Real-time closed loop AI has the capacity to streamline complex tower infrastructure at scale by employing advanced data science models to pinpoint inefficiencies. By processing billions of data points, these smart systems can autonomously monitor and adjust thousands of parameters in real time.
This means that previously unnoticed infrastructure issues – such as a broken solar panel or leaking fuel tank – are detected and modified automatically. These adjustments optimize power usage, promote preventive maintenance, diminish downtime, and improve the lifespan and performance of existing assets. Issues needing manual intervention are flagged to operations teams, significantly reducing the average detection and repair time from months to weeks or days.
Connecting unconnected assets represents a vast potential for business to leverage data analytics to increase operational efficiency, reduce costs, and support sustainability targets. PowerX.ai has enabled TowerCos to save up to 30% in diesel consumption and has reduced CO2 emissions by approximately 15%. The intelligence platform that uses highly targeted data science tools in a closed loop manner to optimise power management, automate issue detection and fast-track resolution.
By deploying platforms such as this, TowerCos can make a paradigm shift in how they view and use data. Efficient operations, cost savings, and real-time power use reduction will drive the industry, its customers and communities towards a more efficient and sustainable future.
PAVING THE WAY FOR A CONNECTED AFRICA WITH AI-DRIVEN INFRASTRUCTURE
By enabling cellular infrastructure to be built and managed more efficiently, targeted data science tools can help accelerate the expansion of cellular infrastructure across the continent while promoting sustainable practices for a greener, more cost-effective future in African mobile connectivity.
A shift is happening in the industry and leading cellular infrastructure companies have already integrated AI-driven solutions like PowerX.ai into the way they manage and operate their systems. As more organisations recognise the potential of AI-driven solutions, the rollout of advanced cellular infrastructure in Africa can gain momentum, ultimately connecting millions of people, empowering communities and helping to bridge the digital divide sustainably.
With AI-driven infrastructure, TowerCo’s can maximise efficiencies whenever and wherever possible, drive down CO2 emissions to support net zero, reduce site management costs and expand responsibly and sustainably to mitigate environmental impact, while delivering for customers and investors.