ICT Africa Writer
Septermber 18, 2013
The FTTH Council Africa Conference
to be held at Maropeng, South Africa, from October 29 to 30 will address, among other things, the apparent low fibre take up rate in Africa. Apparently, this development is discouraging some investors from investing in more terrestrial fibre optic networks in Africa and perhaps leads to an erroneous notion that there is now adequate terrestrial optical fibre in Africa. We will reiterate the inadequacy of terrestrial fibre optic networks in Africa and make suggestions of some of the key issues that delegates at the FTTH Council Africa Conference should address.
There is hardly enough terrestrial fibre deployed in Africa. Only about 30 million kilometres of fibre strands have so far been deployed. In comparison, more than 170 million kilometres of fibre strands (or 6 times as much) have been deployed in Japan, a country 80 times smaller than Africa. This demonstrates how far behind Africa is in fibre deployment compared to leading regions of the world.
If Africa is serious about leveraging ICTs for sustained economic growth and bridging the digital divide, continued investment in terrestrial fibre optic networks is inevitable. So much investment has already been made in submarine networks in sub-Saharan Africa totalling more than ten and providing network design capacity in excess of 25 Tbps. On the other hand, on the access side of things, there is a lot of investment in mobile access networks and more than 700 million subscriptions. And yet there are no adequate terrestrial long haul networks transporting the traffic from the access networks to and from submarine landing points and between communities.
Only yesterday, at the Nigeriacom conference in Lagos, a delegate had to lash out at a panel of executives from key operators out of frustration at the poor quality of mobile services in Nigeria. While fibre damage and other challenges contribute to the poor quality of service, oversubscribing networks that have inadequate backbone bandwidth is a key contribution to the poor quality of service. At the same conference, we also learnt that 60% of Nigeria’s mobile lines are not broadband capable. The shortage of fibre in the national backbones is a key factor in all these shortcomings.
We urge delegates at the FTTH Council Africa conference to review potential causes for low fibre take up rate, including payback period models and bandwidth units offered to customers.
Typical payback periods
for telecommunication investments are known to be long but many operators throughout the world are more interested in long term returns. Some operators in Africa tend to hike the cost of capacity and dark fibre way beyond International levels in order to boost initial periodic cash flows and reduce the payback period. Such was the case for SAT-3 whose capacity was for some time ten times more expensive than comparable submarine cables. African operators and their investors will have to revise their payback models and reduce prices to attract more customers and rip the benefits of longer term returns.
Oftentimes capacity is sold in units that are too high for small service providers and SMEs to afford. If a service provider requires 1Mbps of dedicated bandwidth, for example, they should be able to easily get it without much hassle. Delegates at FTTH Council Africa conference should explore options for providing small units of bandwidth to smaller users. The establishment of more carrier neutral data centres offering bandwidth to any size of business is one example of what can help accomplish this.
We hope that the FTTH Council Africa event will address some of these suggestions and come up with other viable solutions to low fibre capacity take-up rates in Africa.