Home Africa and the Middle EastAfrica and the Middle East II 2003 How Wireless is changing the Development Scenario in Africa

How Wireless is changing the Development Scenario in Africa

by david.nunes
Sammy Buruchara Issue: Africa and the Middle East II 2003
Article no.: 10
Topic: How Wireless is changing the Development Scenario in Africa
Author: Sammy Buruchara
Title: Managing Director; Founder and Director
Organisation: Ope Systems Technologies and NairobiNet Online
PDF size: 104KB

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Article abstract

Africa is among the most underserved telecommunications markets in the world. Rural areas are poorly connected; people often walk great distances to make a call. In Kenya, fixed telephone lines have remained constant for years, but cellular use has increased dramatically and cell phones have radically changed the lives of many people. The Internet has increased demand for information technology products and services, but network growth has not kept up with demand from educational institutions, banks, industry, and government.

Full Article

“Africa is often quite rightly referred to as the most underserved telecommunications markets in the world. Nevertheless, investment in African telecommunications is on the rise, while such investment in the rest of the world is generally flat or down. Most of Africa’s landline infrastructure is aging, difficult to maintain and expensive to build. For this reason, African telecommunication systems are now leapfrogging from wire-line to wireless especially since increasingly more African governments are now relaxing regulations that govern the telecommunications industry. Increasing the telecommunications infrastructure has long been known to aid long-term economic growth and development. The tele-density of most regions in Africa is still below 1 percent, as the number of fixed lines is low. Rural areas are poorly connected with very old and unreliable exchanges. People often have to walk long distances to access a public telephone line. Towards the end of the last decade, governments throughout the continent issued licenses for fixed and mobile wireless networks. As a result, most African countries have seen tremendous growth in connectivity and usage of communication services. Cellular Wireless Networks In the case of Kenya, a country with an estimated population of 30 million, the number of fixed telephone lines has remained essentially constant at 350,000 since 1997. However, with the introduction of cellular networks, the number of telephone users has increased dramatically to 1.7 million to date and counting. Given the nature of the African terrain, it has been easier and faster to roll out the wireless networks than the fixed wire line networks. Wireless network signal coverage in Kenya is currently at 55%. The introduction of cellular networks has radically changed the lives of many people. Furthermore, with the promise of third generation technology, we should soon see the number of applications and services on cellular networks increase to include video and Internet access. The Internet The Internet is emerging as a low cost pathway that allows information to be more accessible, transferable, and manageable. Ready access to information is becoming a catalyst that supports fast-paced sustainable development and transforms economic and social structures around the world, including in Africa. Due to the advent of the Internet in Africa, there has been an increase in the use of information technology products and services within the past five years. The growth of the Internet has driven the demand for capacity both in the backbone and the last mile. To connect users to the Internet, the ‘last mile’ in Africa has commonly been either through telephone or dedicated copper lines. However, most of Africa’s landline infrastructure is aging, difficult to maintain and expensive to build. Therefore, as cities grow and office complexes spring up in various places, it has been difficult for operators to expand the fixed networks as rapidly as required in response to the rise in demand for services. Fixed Wireless Networks Late last year, the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), Kenya’s telecommunications regulator, licensed Public Data Network operators. Four companies have since been awarded this license. One of them, Open Systems Technologies, rolled out its network at the end of April 2003 using fixed wireless technology. With its initial cells covering the two major cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, Open Systems has been able to provide broadband wireless data links to both large and small NGOs, supermarkets, international logistics firms, manufacturing firms, airline cargo companies, public institutions, cyber cafes, and educational institutions. With the wire line option, it would take an average of four weeks to get a DSL connection. Now it takes only a day to provide a wireless connection to an organization. Clearly, this enables organizations to minimize costs by reducing the delay in obtaining service and gives the operator with a faster return on investment. The introduction of fixed wireless networks has far reaching implications for the development of most African countries. Education Educational institutions can now be connected to the Internet quickly and cost-effectively using wireless technologies. This will enable both teachers and students to undertake research and collaborative projects with their colleagues in other institutions not only in Africa, but also throughout the world. Vital research information will now be easily available to teachers and will enable further research. Additionally, the rise of electronic “”distance learning”” technologies has radically altered the mode of teaching to accommodate online learning. Local learning content has already been developed in Kenya and soon a number of schools will be able to access subject courses online using broadband wireless connections. At least one Internet service provider is currently providing hosted online learning courses in information technology, business, and personal development. The use of online learning is certain to increase with the improvement in last mile connectivity. Industry A number of firms in Kenya are branches of international corporations. As such, they need to be connected to their home or partner’s offices locally and internationally. These companies can now establish their operations at any locale of their choice and still be able to connect to their home or partner’s offices using broadband wireless technologies. Banking With the advent of wireless services in Kenya, banks can now offer ATM services at gas stations, shopping complexes and other outlets using secure wireless data links. This has greatly improved access and quality of service to customers who no longer have to travel long distances to obtain banking services. E-government. Like other African countries, the Kenya government has embarked on a program to introduce e-governance by June 2004. As a result, many people will have access to government services without having to travel long distances to the nation’s capital. Development of content, and the rapid rollout of network infrastructure to reach all of the country’s remote locations, will be required if this initiative is to be successful. By licensing additional data network operators, this goal should be achievable by the given date. There are many other market sectors that have been positively affected by the introduction of wireless technologies. These include logistics, health, environment, private sector development, security and tourism, a major income earner for Kenya and other African countries. Africa is often quite rightly referred to as the most underserved telecommunications markets in the world. Nevertheless, investment in African telecommunications is on the rise, while such investment in the rest of the world is generally flat or down. Most of Africa’s landline infrastructure is aging, difficult to maintain and expensive to build. For this reason, African telecommunication systems are now leapfrogging from wire-line to wireless especially since increasingly more African governments are now relaxing regulations that govern the telecommunications industry. Increasing the telecommunications infrastructure has long been known to aid long-term economic growth and development. The tele-density of most regions in Africa is still below 1 percent, as the number of fixed lines is low. Rural areas are poorly connected with very old and unreliable exchanges. People often have to walk long distances to access a public telephone line. Towards the end of the last decade, governments throughout the continent issued licenses for fixed and mobile wireless networks. As a result, most African countries have seen tremendous growth in connectivity and usage of communication services. Cellular Wireless Networks In the case of Kenya, a country with an estimated population of 30 million, the number of fixed telephone lines has remained essentially constant at 350,000 since 1997. However, with the introduction of cellular networks, the number of telephone users has increased dramatically to 1.7 million to date and counting. Given the nature of the African terrain, it has been easier and faster to roll out the wireless networks than the fixed wire line networks. Wireless network signal coverage in Kenya is currently at 55%. The introduction of cellular networks has radically changed the lives of many people. Furthermore, with the promise of third generation technology, we should soon see the number of applications and services on cellular networks increase to include video and Internet access. The Internet The Internet is emerging as a low cost pathway that allows information to be more accessible, transferable, and manageable. Ready access to information is becoming a catalyst that supports fast-paced sustainable development and transforms economic and social structures around the world, including in Africa. Due to the advent of the Internet in Africa, there has been an increase in the use of information technology products and services within the past five years. The growth of the Internet has driven the demand for capacity both in the backbone and the last mile. To connect users to the Internet, the ‘last mile’ in Africa has commonly been either through telephone or dedicated copper lines. However, most of Africa’s landline infrastructure is aging, difficult to maintain and expensive to build. Therefore, as cities grow and office complexes spring up in various places, it has been difficult for operators to expand the fixed networks as rapidly as required in response to the rise in demand for services. Fixed Wireless Networks Late last year, the Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK), Kenya’s telecommunications regulator, licensed Public Data Network operators. Four companies have since been awarded this license. One of them, Open Systems Technologies, rolled out its network at the end of April 2003 using fixed wireless technology. With its initial cells covering the two major cities of Nairobi and Mombasa, Open Systems has been able to provide broadband wireless data links to both large and small NGOs, supermarkets, international logistics firms, manufacturing firms, airline cargo companies, public institutions, cyber cafes, and educational institutions. With the wire line option, it would take an average of four weeks to get a DSL connection. Now it takes only a day to provide a wireless connection to an organization. Clearly, this enables organizations to minimize costs by reducing the delay in obtaining service and gives the operator with a faster return on investment. The introduction of fixed wireless networks has far reaching implications for the development of most African countries. Education Educational institutions can now be connected to the Internet quickly and cost-effectively using wireless technologies. This will enable both teachers and students to undertake research and collaborative projects with their colleagues in other institutions not only in Africa, but also throughout the world. Vital research information will now be easily available to teachers and will enable further research. Additionally, the rise of electronic “”distance learning”” technologies has radically altered the mode of teaching to accommodate online learning. Local learning content has already been developed in Kenya and soon a number of schools will be able to access subject courses online using broadband wireless connections. At least one Internet service provider is currently providing hosted online learning courses in information technology, business, and personal development. The use of online learning is certain to increase with the improvement in last mile connectivity. Industry A number of firms in Kenya are branches of international corporations. As such, they need to be connected to their home or partner’s offices locally and internationally. These companies can now establish their operations at any locale of their choice and still be able to connect to their home or partner’s offices using broadband wireless technologies. Banking With the advent of wireless services in Kenya, banks can now offer ATM services at gas stations, shopping complexes and other outlets using secure wireless data links. This has greatly improved access and quality of service to customers who no longer have to travel long distances to obtain banking services. E-government. Like other African countries, the Kenya government has embarked on a program to introduce e-governance by June 2004. As a result, many people will have access to government services without having to travel long distances to the nation’s capital. Development of content, and the rapid rollout of network infrastructure to reach all of the country’s remote locations, will be required if this initiative is to be successful. By licensing additional data network operators, this goal should be achievable by the given date. There are many other market sectors that have been positively affected by the introduction of wireless technologies. These include logistics, health, environment, private sector development, security and tourism, a major income earner for Kenya and other African countries.” Conclusion With Africa’s poor telecommunication infrastructure, varied terrain and great distances, broad band wireless is a “just-in-time” technology which will enable many countries to accomplish social and economic development goals in major economic sectors such as education, banking, industry and government. Wireless technologies can enable Africa to access the powerful information and communication tools made available by the Internet in order to obtain the resources and reach the levels of efficiency essential for sustainable development. This in turn will result in an improved quality of life for millions of Africa’s inhabitants.”

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