ICT Africa Writer
March 22, 2013
At the just ended Innovation Digital Summit Africa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, one discussion focused on the roles of wireless and wire-line communications in Africa. A panel of experts that was leading the discussion consisted of two representatives from a satellite company, a professor of mobile technologies from Korea and representatives of mobile operators. The only member of the panel to voice the benefits of wire-line networks was the Chief Technical Officer for Access Kenya, a company that deploys both wire-less and FTTN (Fibre To The Node) networks in Kenya.
The makeup of the panel alone suggested a complete disregard for the role of wire-line networks in the development of the African network. While it is imperative that Africa continues to deploy mobile networks to quickly and cost effectively reach as many people as possible, African operators should simultaneously deploy fixed line networks. While mobile networks are easier and less expensive to deploy, the long term cost per bit over wireless networks is much higher, making the cost of high bandwidth applications prohibitive. For bandwidth intensive applications, such as running a home business, a wire-line network becomes a must. In many countries throughout the world one can subscribe for unlimited bandwidth over wire-line for a fixed monthly fee. This is impossible with wireless services. We understand that Telkom South Africa and other ISPs in South Africa have also started offering “all you can eat” ADSL bandwidth and this is likely to be replicated in other African countries.
Perhaps Africa should learn from other operators overseas who continue to value the co-existence of mobile and wire-line networks. The largest mobile operators in the USA, AT&T and Verizon continuously expand both their mobile and wire-line networks – FTTH in the case of Verizon and FTTN in the case of AT&T. Ironically, while others were playing down the role of wire-line networks in Africa, we were learning that the Ethiopian Telecommunication company (Ethio Telecom) was expanding its copper network. There are currently about 1.5M Ethiopians with access to ADSL services but the company finds that unacceptable, they want to boost the number of ADSL lines.
We believe that if Africans are serious about using ICT as a development tool for our children, grandchildren and their children and grandchildren we should look at deploying both mobile and wire-line networks. We know that the initial investment for wire-line networks is very high, but the long term benefits are priceless.