Investors push mixed technology to accelerate universal broadband access

The African continent has a wide spread network of fibre cable laid. This has no doubt helped halve the cost of broadband and increased internet speeds tremendously.

However, the challenges associated with the laying of fibre mainly related to the costs has seen investors deploy a wide range of technologies to provide the best possible connectivity.

Investors continue to grapple with excessive costs in laying fibre optic – which accounts for up to 80 per cent of project costs, according to the European Commission.

The distance between users in the far-flung and remote regions of East Africa, topography, unfavourable climatic conditions and frequent flooding all add costs, as do the way-leaves, which are the levies made by the counties for permission to dig and lay fibre.

Sector experts note that these costs can be as high as Ksh17,000 (about $175) a metre, although Ksh10,000 ($100) a metre is more typical, making it often uneconomical to lay fibre in remote parts of the country with low user density.

Ben Roberts, the CEO of Liquid Telecom Kenya, while speaking at the 12th Annual East AfricaCom Conference in Nairobi on May 7, 2015, said that whereas the company had laid 18,000km of fibre across the African continent, there was need to explore other technologies so as to reach out to the far flung areas.

“There is a need to make cheap reliable broadband available to the mass market, and investors must work around obstacles that hinder connectivity for those who may need it in isolated areas such as quarries, tea estates and safari lodges,” noted Roberts.

He further disclosed that his company was pioneering the Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) technology and wireless networks so as to optimize the quality and cost of hi-speed connectivity.

“The reliability and efficiency of VSAT continues to make it ideal for boosting broadband in Africa as fibre optics is used as a backbone for connectivity. Its biggest advantages are that it is easier to activate and bypasses a host of exchanges and interconnections, drastically lowering potential points of failure,” he added.

According to pundits, VSAT presents the best alternative to fibre connectivity in that it beats the challenge of the last mile connectivity, connecting customers directly to the Internet without the need to rely on additional technologies.

It also offers a solution in regions without full electricity, requiring power only at the premises where it is in use, thereby adding a vital additional tool in targeting universal connectivity.

The new satellites, known as High Throughput Satellites (HTS), allow for a dramatic increase in the number of customers that can be served within a geographical area on a limited amount of spectrum, at on average 30 per cent of the current cost per gigabit supplied. Capable of delivering speeds of 100 Mbps, HTS will make VSAT comparable to terrestrial services on price as well as bandwidth.

The 12th Annual East AfricaCom Conference took place on the 6th and 7th of May 2015, focusing on unlocking growth through broadband rollout and affordable access, refining inland and rural connectivity, and devolution and digitising Africa.


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