CMC brings reliability to Africa and the Middle East

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With a career spanning 21 years, Marisa Trisolino is one of a few female CEOs in the telecoms industry. Trisolino took the helm last year at CMC Networks, heralded as the largest pan-African and Middle Eastern carrier.

At the end of 2018, CMC launched its first SD-WAN offering, the CMC-Rapid Adaptive Network or C-RAN. Speaking about the significance of that offering, Trisolino explains the importance of it to MEA region and its growing need for reliability. “Customers have started to ask to redesign their networks in the Middle East and Africa region. This is largely with an increased thinking and focus on replacing MPLS with DIA (direct access to the internet) or IP circuits, “she explains. However, she says that in several African Countries DIA does not deliver the required reliability, which traditional MPLS does – and that is where CMC’s C-RAN comes in.

“Our C-RAN ecosystem and solution provides revertible sub-second failover for all sites with dual circuits and transmission control protocol (TCP) session optimisation for legacy and high latency circuits like VSAT, she says.

“CMC C-RAN has removed the traditional boundaries between WAN, data centres, security and cloud, and it provides tomorrow’s next generation of networking, which is a first and pivotal step in Africa and the Middle East.”

Continuing on this streak of advancement back in March of this year, CMC partnered UAE-Based du to announce the development of a new low-latency route between Djibouti and Dubai. Together both parties will create a one-stop shop for MPLS and capacity services, allowing cost-effective connectivity between Africa and datamena’s DX1.

Trisolino says the new route has helped CMC customers enjoy SD-WAN, MPLS and Ethernet services, between datamena’s data centre and CMC’s 78 PoPs across Africa, as well as its data centres serving end customers who require a low latency route between Africa and the UAE.

“This network is fully functional and is our preferred ME to Africa route and rides on dual cables and equipment, so fully protected on both segments,” she says. “We have seen a dynamic uptake in business between Djibouti to London and a similar uptake by our VNOs in the Middle East looking to expand into Africa using CMC’s Pan African Networks.”

As a key player in the region, CMC is well-placed to comment on the challenges that exist there. It is an area going through a period of transformation and high activity, and I was interested in learning what CMC is doing to mitigating these risks.

The biggest challenges, in Trisolino’s view, are high bandwidth costs, distances between locations and poor internet connectivity. Places outside the main cities suffer from high costs and low-quality links.

“The high bandwidth cost drove CMC Networks to look for a unique SD-WAN solution that addresses the unique challenges of the MEA market. For this purpose, CMC partnered with 128 Technology and Redvine,” adds Trisolino. “Together we have developed a solution that does not use any tunnels, resulting in bandwidth saving of 30-40% compared with other SD-WAN products. This, together with unique features 128T developed to improve the reliability and quality of choppy internet links, allows CMC to address the challenges of the MEA market, with lower cost and better quality.”

As an advocate for Capacity Media’s Global Women in Telecoms & Tech Summit and Awards, gender parity in our sector is something that she champions personally. What have been her own personal experiences as a woman in this industry? She says that one of her biggest challenges has been around recognition and finding her voice in the workplace – especially in the younger ranks. “Either you get talked over or your suggestion becomes someone else’s great idea,” she says. “It is not in our nature to raise our voice to get attention. The senior female leaders in the market need to support our younger colleagues and give or create the space for them to express and share their opinions in the workplace.”

She overcame this by ensuring she knew her facts and she did some extra homework so that any statement she made was backed up with factual support. “It pays off and, as my career progressed, my opinion was asked for, “she says.

The Second challenge she says is more personal – and that is the feeling of guilt towards her family. “A demanding career takes time away, no matter how organised or balanced your approach. The unexpected meeting or trip always happens, “she explains. “Make peace with this and go with it. The more you fight it or try to make up for lost time the more the guilt feeling will kick. Just get over it and move on, and be thankful at the same time your family understands.”

Trisolino thinks that being a woman in this male-dominated field is a “constant asset” simply because of the added diversity and perspective that it brings. As she puts it, “women have a different approach, style and read on a given situation.” That is not to say that the assessment or read of a male colleague is any less of that of their female counterparts. “It is just simply different and it allows for a different angle or approach, which most of the time speeds up decision-making or makes reaching a conclusion more efficient. The workforce just works better when there is a balanced contribution and diversity. It’s definitely less boring,” she says.

According to the National Girls Collaborative Project in the US there are only 28% of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields as opposed to 72% of men. Women make up 23% of those in core STEM occupations in the UK, according to WISE. Further to this UNESCO statistics suggest that 30% of the sub Saharan African tech workforce are women. East Asia, the Pacific, South Asia and west Asia had the worst balance, with 20% of researchers being women in each of those sub-regions. Meanwhile, central Asia had women comprising 46% of its researchers.

In response, Trisolino says that a large amount of work still needs to be done and part of that involves doing away with unnecessary standards and being intentional with creating much needed balance in our sector.

“A balance needs to be struck and the competitive comparison between male and female needs to be done away with.” She says. “That unnecessary push for women to demonstrate herself at the workplace and home, and pretend the juggling act is sustainable, is just not right.” In order to achieve this Trisolino says building the right environment and working culture is key.

“It starts with us, “she continues. “We need to create and support a working environment, which is encouraging and supportive of the various personalities in a company – male or female. Everyone has the right to be recognised for their ability, merit and individual contribution.” As the fight for gender parity rages on, Trisolino has her hands full with CMC, executing the company’s plans to expand its suite of capabilities.

“CMC Networks is launching the next phase of our C-RAN solution, which will add SDN-NFV capabilities to our platform,” she explains. “This allows our customers to instantiate various VNFs (virtualised network functions) like Fortigate and 128T, allowing to service chain them together for a full next gen SD-WAN network along with a security solution at a click of a button.”

In addition, the company plans to expand its portfolio with the launch of new product offerings. “We are also rolling out the expansion and footprint of our new Multi-Cloud Connect (MCC) and C-Rapid Active Deployment (RAD) products to provide these new offerings across the African continent and the Middle East.” The new offerings are set to “solve the African cross-border connectivity problem” by leveraging CMC’s “extensive African footprint.” Thanks to other recent announcements, CMC now provides layer 2 ExpressRoutes, Direct Connects or IP-optimised routes for any customer in Africa with services on Azure or AWS.

“Then finally, we are able to offer our C-RAN Programmable Platform, which enables customers to self-provision E-Line services between our data centres and increase and decrease the bandwidth of these services on demand.” She says.

All in all a lot is happening over at CMC and exciting times lie ahead.

- Natalie Bannerman, Capacity Media Journalist



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