Eswatini Students Shine in Next-Gen STEM Program

By Phiwa Sikhondze

Five female students from the University of Eswatini have come up tops in the Next-Gen STEM Program, a global initiative by MTN to nurture future talent in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).

The team from Eswatini, representing MTN Eswatini, came out on top in this challenge in a tie with the team from Epitech University in Benin. The Eswatini team impressed the judges with their innovative and feasible solution, which balanced coverage and capacity using allocated spectrum, used optimal site selection criteria, and proposed a hybrid backhaul strategy using fiber, microwave links, and satellite.

The students also recommended renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, outlined a phased approach for network deployment and scaling, engaged local communities to support and maintain the network, considered regulatory and compliance issues, selected appropriate technologies, and suggested ways to monetize the rural network while ensuring affordability for the local population.

The Team Challenge involved four teams from different universities: the University of Eswatini, Epitech University (Benin), Eduvos (South Africa), and Cape Peninsula University of Technology (South Africa). The teams were tasked with planning, deploying, and launching a cellular network in a rural area with no existing site infrastructure and limited grid availability.

The teams had to consider various aspects such as network architecture, site selection, backhaul strategy, power efficiency, deployment phases, community involvement, regulatory and compliance, technology selection, monetization strategy, and timeline and launch.

The Eswatini team also created a rough timeline for network deployment and launch, including milestones and testing phases. They estimated that the project would take about 18 months to complete, with the first phase covering 20 percent of the rural population, the second phase covering 40 percent, and the third phase covering the remaining 40 percent.

MTN Eswatini Chief Technology and Information Officer, Lindani Dlamini, congratulated the students on their achievement. He noted that the team’s skills and approach to problem-solving are key to the development of Eswatini and are necessary to achieve rapid progress. He praised the team for building momentum and capability in problem-solving and said that he looks forward to continued engagement with them.

“It was quite a wonderful journey and I can see why they won the competition. I think they covered every element of it, team. These are skills that have to be developed if we want our country to develop. It gives you a systematic way of solving problems and you guys have built the momentum and capability to solve problems and thank you for that. On behalf of the company, we look forward to engaging you further and wish you all the best in all your endeavors,” Dlamini said.

On behalf of the team, Sinenkhosi Khumalo expressed gratitude to MTN Eswatini for awarding the opportunity. She said that the exposure has added a lot of value to their skills and knowledge and they wish to share those skills with their peers and the nation at large.

“This programme has been a great learning experience for us. We have gained a lot of knowledge, skills, and confidence in STEM fields. We are very grateful to MTN for this opportunity and we hope to use what we have learned to contribute to the development of our country and the continent,” she said.

The Next-Gen STEM Programme is closely aligned with MTN’s Global Diversity and Inclusion initiative, which aims to foster a culture of innovation and collaboration among young people from different backgrounds and regions. The programme consists of online assessments, three modules on campus, business technology fundamentals, and business analytics, and a day at the MTN Head Office, a mini research assignment, and a team challenge.

The 5 students from Eswatini, who were selected based on their academic performance in STEM programmes are Neliswa Nxumalo, Tifeziwe Dlamini, Sinenkhosi Khumalo, Minenhle Dlamini, and Siphokazi Simelane. They are also pursuing degrees in Computer Science, Information Technology, Electrical Engineering, and Electronic Engineering.

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