In late May, BT Group, the UK’s pioneering fixed and mobile telecommunications company, and MTN, the leading African telecommunications company, formed an alliance to offer resilient and secure solutions to businesses in Africa.
Experts agree based on extensive research that over half of African businesses are not sufficiently prepared against large-scale cyberattacks, so this new partnership aims to remedy that concern, as well as enhance existing offerings, by providing not only world-class security but a raft of other communication services to better help business customers across the continent.
New and existing MTN Business customers will have access to a range of solutions, including cloud-based security and consulting, managed connectivity and voice services that will be delivered as part of MTN’s Enterprise portfolio, meeting local regulatory and compliance requirements. And BT’s dedicated customer benefits include their long-established technologies that have serviced international banks, healthcare providers, energy companies and governments.
The first asset of this alliance will be a security operations center (SOC) service, which will allow customers to continuously monitor and improve their cyber security while preventing, detecting, analysing, and responding to cyber security incidents.
In a statement, BT said the new subscription service, which requires no capital investment and will be immediately available to existing and new MTN customers, is based on its cloud-based Security Incident and Event Management (SIEM) service, combining the latest technologies with BT’s history of securing global organisations.
And MTN Business will continue to provide innovative solutions to ensure that the benefits of the digital economy are extended to more people and entities across Africa. However, as this growth occurs, it’s imperative to manage the risks, according to Wanda Matandela, chief enterprise business officer at MTN.
The South African telecommunications provider is excited about this partnership’s potential and says it is committed to provide solutions that ensure businesses thrive in the digital economy of the future.
“This new partnership is an advantage for local businesses,” said Amon Moce Rodolphe Bazongo, information technology and big data management specialist, and digital and innovation fellow at the African Union (AU).
The advantage, he says, lies in the fact that the type of solutions proposed is often not developed locally and are therefore inaccessible.
“There are solutions that require a local telephone number to associate with the cloud,” he says. “In this case in Africa, local companies aren’t linked to these cloud solutions. So either these local companies develop their own solutions or they’re forced to look for solutions elsewhere through partnerships with foreign providers to allow local needy people to easily use them.”
He also believes that this alliance can be useful to many people especially outside South Africa, where MTN is based, and where there are already some solutions similar to what the alliance with BT offers.
“This partnership can allow people to develop solutions that they couldn’t develop before,” adds Bazongo. “It makes it easier to improve some services and access others. It’s especially an interesting partnership for the countries where MTN is located. Overall, it’s great to have access to solutions without developing a particular innovation. Just having it through such a partnership is all positive.”
It’s a first step towards finding answers to some of the current problems in Africa, according to Didier Simba, CISO and founder of the Club of Experts on Information Security in Africa (CESIA).
“We know that Africa has an increasing need to protect itself; a need for skills and competent teams to be able to detect and respond to the incidents that are coming,” he says. “A service like this is clearly an opportunity, we will be more and more protected.”
Cyber security and telecommunications expert Karim Ganame, founder of Streamscan, an international cybersecurity company based in Montreal, Canada, that operates in several African countries, agrees it’s a good initiative. He sees the opportunity for customers of telecommunications companies to benefit from better security and it will attract talent, but fixes will take time to implement.
“This will also fill a gap in qualified personnel,” he says. “In Africa we still have challenges in terms of capacity to do detection, prevention and analysis of advanced operational cyber security. There is a lot of growth and improvement, but challenges remain.”
Yet Simba, as well as the broader consensus, believes it would be even more effective for those initiating the type of alliance like the one between BT and MTN to prioritise developing local skills to local independence while encouraging secure services. Plus, he says that it’s essential this type of partnership is accompanied by training and creation of local skills to limit dependence on suppliers outside the continent.
He also mentioned the issue of data sovereignty and espionage in Africa where according to Smart Africa, a coalition of African heads of state and governments to stimulate sustainable socio-economic development on the continent through ICT, the capacities hosted in multi-tenant data centers don ‘t exceed 1% of the world total. “Today, the major challenge of cyber security in Africa is data sovereignty, our borders and espionage,” says Simba. “This is what is causing havoc at the moment. Cyber espionage is still not well known in Africa. There is a need to create local independent and unsupervised expertise outside African borders to deal with it.”