Opinion: World Telecoms Day – MTN celebrates 30 years and looks towards 2054

17th May 2024 By: Creamer Media Reporter

Opinion: World Telecoms Day – MTN celebrates 30 years and looks towards 2054

MTN South Africa CEO Charles Molapisi

In this article, MTN South Africa CEO Charles Molapisi writes about the telecommunication group's impact over the past 30 years, as well as its future plans.

Three decades ago, South Africa was at a critical juncture. While grappling with the remnants of the past, it also stood on the edge of democracy and a brighter future. Established in the same year that the country became a democracy, MTN was positioning itself to be a key player in the process of introducing the transformative power and potential of telecommunications and information systems to the nation. 

With one of two national licences to operate, MTN, with a total staff of 20, set its plans in motion. By May 1994, a network was installed, and the company’s engineers were commissioning base stations at an unprecedented rate of 100 a month, a world record.

Since those days, MTN has retained its reputation as a beacon of innovation and connectivity. We have not just built networks; we have, in 30 years, built communications bridges that has connected hospitals, schools and provided South Africans in remote parts of the country access to the world through digital and financial inclusion offerings tailored to everyone’s needs.

Over the past ten years, MTN has invested close to R10-billion into its operations annually, resulting in 97% national population coverage. Furthermore, MTN continues to invest in the resilience of its network to ensure that South Africans continue to enjoy the uninterrupted benefits of a modern, connected life.

As we mark World Telecoms Day today (May 17), it is appropriate that we reflect on our pioneering role in South Africa’s transformative telecommunications journey. Looking back, we can celebrate technological advancements, empowerment and progress that MTN has helped bring to our nation.

The company that began with 20 people now employs about 4 200 people meeting the communications needs of 37.1-million subscribers and achieving service revenue growth of 3% for the first quarter of this year.

As mobile phones have become more sophisticated and universally used, apps have simplified access to services ranging from financial solutions to education, health, security, entertainment, gaming, and many others. National and international news is constantly available, and through services like Facebook, X, TikTok, LinkedIn and WhatsApp, to name a few, people communicate and instantly exchange news, views, and opinions with others across the nation and the world.

As proud South African corporate citizens, we are active participants in society. We invest in communities and building science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. By establishing media centres with internet access in disadvantaged communities and special needs schools across the country, we promote access to education and coding and robotics proficiencies.  Since 2018, MTN has dedicated nearly R385-million to supporting schools, with R183.1-million specifically directed towards aiding special needs institutions.

Over the past five years, this has seen us distributing some 4 800 devices to learners and unemployed youth, setting up, connecting, and handing over 45 multimedia labs in schools and community centres, and reaching over 360 000 people across the country.

Wide-ranging educational programmes have brought business and digital skills to people nationwide. Entrepreneurial skills and development have been fostered by programmes that include our annual Digital Skills for Digital Jobs initiative and the MTN Business App of the Year competition. Now attracting entries from across the continent, many of the apps entered have gone on to create significant market presences.

As we recognise how telecommunications has changed South Africa and the world, MTN is considering what technology will unlock in the 30 years to come. In a rapidly evolving digital landscape, we can only say with certainty that the possibilities are endless.

MTN is already leveraging emerging technologies such as 5G, AI and the Internet of Things (IoT) to revolutionise industries, enhance connectivity and drive inclusive growth. Beyond 5G, technologies that offer faster speeds, lower latency, and higher capacity will enable new applications and services that were previously not feasible.

The proliferation of connected devices and IoT applications will continue to reshape the telecommunications and information systems landscape. As devices connect to the internet, MTN will focus on providing robust network and connectivity solutions, managing vast volumes of network traffic efficiently, and ensuring security and privacy across ecosystems.

AI and machine learning technologies will optimise network performance, predict and prevent network outages, personalise services, and enhance customer experiences. Beyond telecommunications, AI will revolutionize healthcare, education, entertainment etc. This will require large data centres, networks, computing power, or what is now referred to as AI Infratech. Edge computing will move computer storage and processing to the network's edge - closer to users and devices, and as close as possible to data sources.

Advancements in satellite technology, including low Earth orbit satellite constellations, will improve coverage, speed, and reliability by closing geographical coverage gaps and bringing high-speed broadband coverage to even more rural and isolated populations.

As we leverage these emerging and latest technologies, we need to continue to forge partnerships with government, private sector, civic society and small and medium-sized enterprises to unlock the endless opportunities brought about by the fourth industrial revolution, giving our country the opportunity to continuously compete at a global level.

In short, our technological and digital world in 2054 will be vastly different to that of 2024 and is difficult to predict.

What I can confidently say, is that MTN's commitment to South Africa's development will not waver. As the next 30 years promise more extraordinary transformation and the ICT sector shapes our world, MTN will build platforms and solutions for South Africa’s progress.