‘Paucity of Terrestrial Fibre Bane of Africa’s Internet Penetration’

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Emma Okonji

Experts at the just concluded Africa session of the International Telecoms Week conference, which held in Chicago, USA, have described terrestrial fibre constraints as the mother of all bottlenecks hindering increased internet penetration on the continent.

During his presentation on the theme: “Enabling Content on the African Continent”, Chief Executive Officer of Xalam Analytics, a research firm, Guy Zibi, analysed the African digital journey, highlighting dramatic changes that have altered the dynamics of the digital transformation of the continent.

According to him, the international capacity challenge has been solved, with most coastal countries exhibiting an oversupply of subsea cables serving the continent. However, he noted that the reach of such capacity was still limited due to limitations in the availability of terrestrial open-access fibre which remains extremely low in most markets especially Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Tanzania among others. These limitations have translated into retail connectivity prices as a proportion of income being twice more expensive in Africa compared to Latin America and the Caribbean and trice when compared to Asia.

Zibi highlighted the dangers of deepening the continent’s digital divide with services limited to narrow addressable markets and Africa’s inability to fully partake in the fourth industrial revolution. He reiterated the need for more aggressive deployment of terrestrial infrastructure, especially in metropolitan and local networks to reach the end users and enhance affordability. A panel that included high-level representation from Orange, MTN GlobalConnect, MainOne and Kwese, challenged African policy makers to proffer incentives to encourage the deployment of broadband infrastructure of scale to support the rollout of much needed infrastructure to rural areas.
The Africa Panel session at ITW was sponsored by MainOne for the 7th year in a row and continues to provide a platform for players to share perspectives on the opportunities and challenges across the region with a global audience. The discussions focused on infrastructure challenges as well as regulatory and economic constraints that impede increased internet access and proliferation of broadband across the continent.

In Nigeria, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) stakeholders, had before now, seen the challenges of limited terrestrial fibre, especially in the hinterlands, where the demand for internet access is on the increase. The Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Mr. Gbenga Adebayo had several times, called on the federal government of Nigeria to consider building a national backbone infrastructure that will transmit broadband capacity from the shores of the country to the hinterlands. He had complained that there was too much concentration of broadband capacities around the shores of the country where most of the submarine cables from Europe, that were driven by Glo1, MainOne, MTN WACS, SAT 3, among others, were berthed. According to him, less than 10 per cent of the total capacities of submarine cables in the country are currently being used by Nigerians, because the majority of Nigerians live in the hinterlands where there is paucity of terrestrial fibre, occasioned by limited broadband capacities that are sparsely distributed among homes, offices and public places around the hinterlands.

Adebayo however commended the recent move by Glo 2, to build a second multi-billion naira optic fibre submarine cable from Lagos to the Southern part of Nigeria.

The new fibre optic submarine cable, known as Glo2, when completed, will have 12 Terabit capacity per second, spanning 850km, providing last-mile connectivity to businesses and oil companies in the Southern part of the country and beyond.