Coast-to-coast fibre for Africa

by david.nunes
Dan ZajicekIssue:AME 2013
Article no.:8
Topic:Coast-to-coast fibre for Africa
Author:Dan Zajicek
Organisation:Gilat Satcom
PDF size:205KB

About author

Dan Zajicek is the CEO of Gilat Satcom with years of senior management experience in running sales and marketing organizations and selling high value and complex solutions.

Prior to joining Gilat Satcom, Mr. Zajicek was the VP, head of the business division at Bezeq international. Mr. Zajicek’s previous management positions include other VP roles at Bezeq International, such as CFO, VP human resources and VP carrier relations.

Dan Zajicek holds a B.A and MA in Business and Economics from the Hebrew University

Article abstract

Africa’s already has an extensive undersea cable communications infrastructure linking it with the rest of the world. Its internal communications, though, especially broadband access, are still inadequate for businesses, government, education, health and other public services as well as for personal communications of all sorts. Priority, now, has to go to developing backbone and broadband access networks to handle the continent’s communications for businesses and public services as well as to accelerate socio-economic development and improve the quality of living of Africa’s people.

Full Article

Just as crops need water to grow and flourish, modern economies require information to expand and prosper. Connecting millions of individuals in Africa with the global web of information empowers them to bring their talents and energies to grow economic prosperity for one and all.

The key to bringing cost-effective connectivity to all of Africa is widely available broadband access. Operating at the speed of light, high-capacity fibre cable can bring broadband to nearly everybody, connecting hundreds of millions of people to the global communication network. Broadband over fibre holds the key to boosting business activity, providing advanced government services and contributing to quality of life.

Investment in Africa requires communications infrastructure

While comprising many countries and hosting a population of over 1 billion people, the African continent is still a relatively small economy. In the past, Africa faced great challenges when trying to attract consistent, large-scale investment to develop its economies. Investment traditionally has been sporadic and unable to boost the continent to the prosperity that its potential merits.

In order to attract investment, African countries must continue to demonstrate that they are capable of being reliable international players. International success is dependent on low-cost, high-capacity and reliable broadband communications infrastructures that will allow Africa to enjoy the myriad products and services that are available to Americans, Europeans and Asians. A dependable, trans-African broadband network will attract international investment like a magnet.

Connecting the continent to the global economy

The recent history of high-capacity connectivity in Africa is promising.
Since 2000, Africa has been the beneficiary of high-speed, undersea cable connecting it to Europe and Asia and laying the foundation for significant boosts in productivity. The first of these, SEA-ME-WE, extended from Sri Lanka and India, up the Red Sea, across the Mediterranean and around Europe via the Atlantic Ocean to the UK. Africa was mostly bypassed except for a few landing points in the Mediterranean.

Only a year later, the SAT-3 undersea cable was deployed along the west coast of Africa connecting a handful of its Atlantic Ocean-bordering cities to Europe and Asia.
By 2009, the new Seacom undersea cable did for East Africa what SAT-3 did in the West, forming, for the first time, a high-speed communications ring around the continent. Subsequent cable deployments like Main One, EASSy, and WACS boosted capacity still further.

Insert Picture of the Africa Undersea Cable Systems

Today, most of Africa’s ocean-bordering cities have access to undersea cable and thus to the global Internet. Governments, business and individuals are able to enjoy the many benefits of high-speed broadband that fibre provides. As a result, many African countries have made considerable economic progress over the last ten years. While the challenge of connecting Africa to the global communications network has now been met, the much larger challenge of extending high-speed broadband to land-locked countries and their millions of citizens must now be met.

Extending broadband inland

Land-locked subscribers have not been shut out of the game of global communications. For many years, they have enjoyed effective connectivity via satellite.
Above Africa, dozens of satellites reach cities and remote areas alike so that everybody can have access to the Internet and global connectivity. Trans-Africa communication network players have placed satellite hubs throughout the continent enabling millions of African citizens to connect their computer devices at home and in the workplace to the Internet. These connections have contributed to a mighty boost in the economic activities of these countries and to the quality of life of their citizens.

However, satellite communications are expensive and limited in speed, latency and capacity. Satellite communications are no match for the virtually unlimited capabilities of fibre optic cable. Land-locked Africans—individuals, businesses and governments—who are beyond the reach of the coastal fibre networks, are not able to achieve greater prosperity and services without the broadband speeds and considerable capacities of broadband over fibre.

Broadband challenges

Bringing fibre optic cable for broadband access to land-locked countries and remote citizens must overcome many challenges:

• Robust networks require redundancy, so alternate fibre routes must be constructed;
• Metro link hubs from which the network can be extended further must be built;
• Last-mile networks from fibre backbones to enterprises and homes are necessary;
• The fibre cable has to physically cross national boundaries; and
• Growing use of smart mobile devices boosts demand for backhaul capacity from mobile networks and this capacity must be provided by fibre

Meeting these challenges is extremely costly and time-consuming. Only an inviting investment climate can encourage the levels of investment necessary.
There is still a huge gap between the escalating demand for broadband and the ability to provide high-quality stable and reliable connectivity. But considerable progress is being made. From discussions we’ve had with communication ministers across Africa we know that some governments are making enormous investments into their national fibre networks – particularly in Eastern and Southern Africa – and have a clear long term vision for their broadband infrastructure. These governments understand the great potential of boosting their broadband infrastructure. However, there are still many countries whose fibre network plans and activities remain underdeveloped or even stagnant.

The role of regulators
Traditional regulation of communications infrastructures and cross-border cooperation must be re-considered in light of the nature and extensive benefits of broadband. Governments have to clear away the regulatory hurdles and red tape that stand in the way of this long-awaited progress. They need to encourage network operators, new and existing, to attract and invest considerable sums of money for long-term gains.
Specifically, governments must:

• Make it easier for operators to obtain licenses to compete as infrastructure providers
• Make it easier to get permits from local authorities to lay cable
• Undertake regional collaboration on cross-border cable projects without using them for political and tax gains which only defeat their purpose
• Build a stable environment that reduces the risk of long term investments in infrastructure
• Build a healthy and competitive wholesale market, enabling telecom players to leverage the investment made in infrastructure, and keep reasonable and competitive prices when leasing the infrastructure

Laying of fibre

Laying fibre cable is labour- and time-intensive. More than that, it is expensive. In order to maximize effectiveness, infrastructure companies must be practical about where they lay the cable. While fibre is always the preferred medium in terms of capacity, it is not always the most cost-effective. For example, where distances are long or where roads must be dug up, deployment of fibre can be too expensive for the return on investment. In such situations, satellite or microwave communications are often the cost-effective alternative.

Some carriers mistakenly lay fibre over routes and in dense, urban areas where there are plenty of businesses and individual subscribers, thinking that there is better return on investment there. Sometimes, these areas are already well-served, so carriers would do better to concentrate on underserved areas where new subscribers can be acquired. For example, there are thousands of metro areas that are desperate for fibre for last-mile connectivity. Fibre would provide their economies with a significant boost.
Residents of towns and cities across Africa are anxiously awaiting rich-content services that other Africans are already enjoying. Carriers need to consider triple-play opportunities that provide, at once, IPTV, VoD, Ineractive TV and other services, making broadband more attractive and the deployment of fibre more profitable.
Working Together

Most operators charge other networks and service providers tariffs to use their fibre backbones. High tariffs are an impediment to the spread of broadband. Governments and regulators can be instrumental in encouraging the lowering or elimination of such tariffs.
Furthermore, operators can use a combination of sharing options to optimize their fibre routes. For example, a private consortium can share fibre routes with a national fibre network for the benefit of both, lowering total deployment costs while speeding time to market.

The communication explosion has boosted economies all over the world. Billions are now enjoying new, immediate availability of information and better services as a result. Africa has benefited from these new communications capabilities as well, and is poised to realize an even greater economic and quality-of-life boost from ubiquitous broadband.
Africa has already deployed vast communications infrastructure and connection with the rest of the world via undersea cables. The next step is to extend the high capacity of broadband throughout the continent. The laying of fibre from the landing points of the undersea cables inland throughout the continent will provide the citizens, businesses and government of Africa with broadband capacity that will improve the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

By providing an attractive climate for the deployment of fibre cable, national governments will encourage the deployment of broadband for the benefit of all.
As the CEO of Gilat Satcom, I see great potential in Africa’s growing economy. We believe that acceptable up-time of fibre communications in Africa should be near 100 per cent, like it is in Europe and the USA. So, we are offering our fibre and MPLS clients high-availability, coast-to-coast terrestrial redundant connectivity via fibre local loops, to the EASSy and WACS cables along the east and west coasts.


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