Accenture’s Network Strategy Lead for UK and Ireland, Mr. Christian Rouffaert, was in Nigeria last week to discuss Africa’s broadband growth. He spoke with Emma Okonjion the growth potentials in Nigeria and advised government on the right policies. Excerpts:
What is your take on mobile broadband penetration in Africa?
Africa has demonstrated economic growth in broadband ahead of other continents. Over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies in broadband, according to The Economist rating of December 2011, were Africans. It was estimated that that Information and Communications Technology (ICT) spending in Africa will grow a further 4.9 per cent in 2012 to reach $48.7 billion by the end of the year.
Mobile broadband is the future and the world is fast moving on to mobile terminals and devices as the primary medium for the consumption and usage of broadband. Nigeria has the potentials to drive broadband growth in Africa and to leapfrog the rest of the world in delivering mobile broadband for customer experience. With the landing of several submarine cables from overseas countries, through the West African coast, to Nigeria, I foresee Nigeria as a country that could drive broadband penetration in Africa.
How can a country’s policy drive or retard broadband penetration?
A country’s policy on broadband could either spur growth and deepen broadband penetration, or mar the entire process. The policy should be able to encourage demand and usage of broadband. It should be able to encourage investors and operators to play in the broadband space. The policy should be able to remove bottleneck bureaucracy to enable operators to easily deploy broadband technology. One other thing is that a good broadband policy should allow for availability of spectrum and spectrum management.
In Europe for example, there is a policy on broadband penetration, which made it mandatory for basic broadband coverage for every European by 2013.
In mid-2011, over 95.7 per cent of European households had standard broadband coverage
The policy said there must be fast broadband coverage for all by 2020 with over 50 per cent households having subscriptions at 100 megabits or more.
But in mid-2011, half of EU homes, about 105 million had next generation broadband access. It is all about the right policy and policy implementation.
How do you see a situation where some operators acquire broadband spectrum and they are not able to roll out services with them?
Licences awarded by the regulatory body are meant for service rollout for which such licenses were granted. In the UK for example, broadband licences are granted to network operators that have the potential to rollout services within a certain period of time. They are given conditions for rollout and the time for rollout is well spelt out. The truth is that there should be laws that make the licensee either gain or lose license after a predetermined period.
Without demand, there will be no broadband penetration. What is your take on demand for broadband in Africa, especially in Nigeria?
Consumer demand is important for broadband penetration, but the consumer must first see the need for broadband, before making demand. Government should be able to create online applications for the use of the consumers, such as voters’ registration, online registration among others. When government creates the application, it will definitely spur demand, be it in Nigeria or in other African countries. Government should be able to stimulate demand by encouraging companies, both public and private sector to adopt broadband technologies.
What are the economic benefits of broadband?
Enormous I must say. It drives employment with a community, local government area, states and at the federal government level of any country that embraces broadband. Again it enables people to gain access to the rest of the world and go beyond national and international boundaries. It is a platform to boost education in a country, through academic research. It also drives e-commerce, where people could do business online and have more customers and experience better ways of doing businesses. In fact it is a platform for economic development.
All over the world, information and communications technology (ICT) is driving economies. With the level of ICT infrastructure available in Nigeria, do you see ICT driving economic growth in the country?
Yes I see such economic growth in Nigeria, just like in other African countries, where ICT is being deployed. This is true because I have seen a lot of ICT innovations taking place in Nigeria, which are driven by broadband and the broadband forum in Lagos, which I was invited to, proved it all.
How will you advise government on broadband penetration?
Government should take a critical look at the right policy implementation on broadband. Policies concerning competition and regulation play a key role in shaping the structure and size of the telecom industry in any country. Government should stimulate demand for broadband by encouraging companies and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to embrace broadband technology. To achieve this, government must partner with the private sector and also try to reduce the cost of broadband deployment, in order to encourage more investments. Typical measures that must be undertaken by government include: import tax reductions, zoning law adjustments, cross-industry coordination and direct investment in broadband network by government itself.
In Japan for instance, the government through its U-Japan broadband strategy, provided money for cities to wire schools and community centres. It provided zero-interest or low interest loans for cities and businesses to deploy broadband, and provided tax breaks for the purchase of networking equipment in broadband deployment. The South Korean government also supports private investment in infrastructure in the form of loans and tax subsidies as incentives.
The government has also sought to offset costs of upgrading the access network by funding its own backbone network connecting government departments, on which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can rent capacity.
In the US, President Barack Obama, gave an executive order instructing government departments to direct broadband carriers to plan deployment to coincide with street and building construction to assist in overall cost reduction.
According to Obama, “Building a nationwide broadband network will strengthen our economy and put more Americans back to work…By connecting every corner of our country to the digital age, we can help our businesses become more competitive, our students become more informed and our citizens become more engaged.”
What are some of the specific investments carried out by developed countries in broadband penetration, and how did such investments play out in broadband development?
Australian government invested $ 43 billion to facilitate greater rollout of Next-Generation Networks (NGNs) that can provide broadband speed of between 40mbps and 100mbps, and sometimes higher.
In France, areas where rollout is not commercially viable, the government plans to direct $2.8 billion of funds via public-private partnerships to assist with the rollout of shared and open-access networks promoting maximum competition at both network and retail service levels.
The European (EU) commission has approved a UK support scheme for Next Generation Broadband Access (NGBA) in low-density, rural areas, where commercial operators are unlikely to invest. The value of aid is estimated around £1.5 billion to achieve coverage of 30Mbps networks. All these investments enhanced broadband rollout in these countries mentioned.