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EMTEL 3G UMTS Network, Mauritius

Key Data

EMTEL Ltd, the second largest mobile telecommunications company in Mauritius (next to state owned Cellplus), has established the first commercial Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard (UMTS) 3G network in Africa (the first test call was made on 16 October 2004). Full commercial services began in November 2004, making this the first commercial African 3G network.

EMTEL was the first company to launch cellular operations in the Southern Hemisphere on 29 May 1989. The company is a joint venture between Currimjee Jeewanjee, a Mauritian investment group, and Millicom International Cellular (MIC) SA of Luxembourg.

The network was installed by Huawei Technologies of China and makes use of their R4 softswitch technology. Huawei were the sole supplier for this network providing an end-to-end solution. EMTEL has invested an estimated $20 million for the upgrade of their existing network to 3G UMTS. Two other networks in the world use this technology, one in the UAE (ETISALAT) and another in Hong Kong (SUNDAY). Following this success, Huawei has gained a further $400 million more in orders for similar networks from other African countries including Kenya ($34 million), Zimbabwe ($288 million) and Nigeria ($40 million).


Huawei provided EMTEL with an end-to-end UMTS solution including UMTS BTS system, core network together with 3G mobile intelligent network, 3G mobile data service platform and UMTS terminals. The island receives over 700,000 tourists per year and so people from all over the world will be able to use the excellent level of 3G service in Mauritius.

The island is also a duty-free port in Africa and, as such, attracts significant international business and needs a 3G network for data and voice communication services. These services for tourists and business travellers will include video phone, video conference, multimedia short message, WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), LBS (Location Based Service, which are particularly important for the tourist trade), streaming download, and multimedia RBT (Ring Back Tone).

Huawei has installed its Release 4 mobile softswitch system (third Generation Partnership Program (3GPP) UMTS releases), the design of which is based on the U-SYS NGN platform. A control layer MSoftX3000 and a bearer layer UMG8900 form the softswitch architecture, with features such as distributed exchange, TDM/IP dual plane networking, equalised network load, expansion without signalling point, integrated service management and dual homing network disaster recovery, as well as capability to evolve easily to 3G R5 (release 5) and R6 (release 6) through software upgrade when required.


Softswitch is the concept of separating the network hardware from network software. In traditional circuit switched networks, hardware and software is not independent. Circuit switched networks rely on dedicated facilities for inter-connection and are primarily designed for only voice communication.

More efficient packet based networks use Internet Protocol (IP) to route voice and data efficiently over diverse routes and shared facilities. The transport portion of telecommunications networks is increasing evolving to utilise IP. In addition to data transport, the IP backbone is also increasingly the medium for Voice over IP (VoIP) services.

An example of the de-coupling initiative is exemplified by special gateway and mediation equipment that is deployed to connect IP based networks to circuit based networks for VoIP.


For release 4 (R4), the soft switches (MSC Servers) and media gateways are decoupled compared to the previous MSC all-in-one structure. The soft-switch architecture based R4 circuit domain core network enables GSM, GPRS and WCDMA subscribers to access the network simultaneously and allows a smooth evolution towards R5 and R6.

For mobile-to-mobile voice calls, as in previous release standards, the voice packets may be sent directly using either Tandem Free Operation (TFO) or Transcoder Free Operation (TrFO), thereby improving voice quality.

For release 4, media gateways can become Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) switches when TrFO is used. Voice transport in the core network is over ATM using ATM adaptation layer 2 (AAL2). The media gateway provides the voice bearer with switching from the packet core network to the circuit-switched legacy Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The soft switch controls the media gateway via a standardised control interface using Media gateway control (Megaco) protocol. Though the wireless softswitch looks on the surface like a wireline softswitch used for fixed Class 5 service, the software program of the wireless soft switch must be compliant with GSM and UMTS specifications and provide the necessary functionality to control the Radio Access Network (RAN) and mobile users. This added complexity must also comply with a range of other standards-based protocols and procedures, such as Customised Applications for Mobile Network Enhanced Logic (CAMEL) triggers and Subscriber Information Management (SIM) procedures.