As Africa continues to outperform developed economies, as well as other emerging powerhouses in terms of growth, information and communication technologies (ICT) will retain a central role in sustaining this global dominance, says SEAN NOURSE, Executive for Connectivity at Internet Solutions.
A great deal of the prosperity and growth experienced on the continent can be attributed to the proliferation of the numerous fibre optic cable systems that run along the east and west coasts of Africa.
ICT is a key socio-economic driver and contributes significantly to the GDP of a region. The vast investment that is going into technology and communication infrastructure across Africa is also helping to drive the economies of various countries, thereby accelerating growth and development.
The majority of this investment is going into large-scale fibre infrastructure projects aimed at harnessing the massive amounts of international bandwidth available from the various under-sea fibre optic cable systems.
The Seacom, TEAMS and Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) along the East coast of Africa, along with the West African Cable System (WACS), Main One and the SAT-3/SAFE cable systems along the West coast have increased international broadband capacity exponentially. These cable systems are also a long way from reaching saturation, which bodes well for future growth. Some systems are no more than three years old and are probably using as little as 10% of their total capacity. As such it is only the distribution to the end-user that is lacking.
To ensure that the vast amount of bandwidth along Africa’s coastlines can be delivered to major metropolitan areas across the continent there are various projects underway, where new high-capacity long-distance national terrestrial fibre networks are being deployed.
A case in point is South Africa, which is currently fostering numerous projects: A consortium that consists of Neotel, Vodacom and MTN is laying national fibre, in addition to the fibre being deployed by FibreCo, a joint venture between IS, Cell C and Convergence Partners. IS is also investing in fibre networks for metropolitan distribution rings around Gauteng, Durban and Cape Town.
Terrestrial fibre is the best model for delivering voice and data services, as well as other new technologies such as cloud computing and unified communications. These technologies will continue to drive demand for more capacity, especially as Internet content consumption and usage trends continue to shift in Africa. However, the major demand will come from people who want to communicate using richer communication mediums, like video conferencing, or consume rich media content online. Terrestrial fibre networks are also essential to support the rapidly growing mobile penetration rates on the continent.
Internet Solutions is deploying wireless and fixed-line last mile solutions to meet the demand. Deploying fibre to the home (FTTH) is only financially viable where there is high end-user density. As such this last mile solution may still be some way off for most African cities, but at least the building blocks of a national and metropolitan fibre network backbone will be in place when this demand increases. Until then wireless technologies will be the answer because it has the potential to solve the last mile issue as it is more mobile and can cater to new usage paradigms, such as the bring your own device (BYOD) trend. It is also capable of meeting the requirements for connectivity to the home. That means, for now at least, fibre will mainly be deployed to connect base stations and for backhaul.
High speed and capacity bandwidth in Africa is booming and, even more importantly, the cost of provisioning this level of connectivity is already coming down. All of these factors are finally making Africa’s long-awaited Internet era a reality.
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