Although currently harbouring one of the lowest uptakes of internet service connection in the whole world, communications technology across the African continent is also one of the fastest growing. Whilst many commentators have advocated the advantages of ‘leap-frogging’ more traditional fixed infrastructure networks in favour of mobile internet connections, fixed broadband in Africa is undoubtedly benefitting from increasingly better quality and investment. However, a population penetration rate of at least 20% is suggested before the social and economic advantages of a widespread internet connection can be realised. Clearly large investment into the African communications infrastructure needs to occur before widespread connectivity benefits an equally widespread population.
Fixed broadband is defined as the delivery of an Internet IP bandwidth, and the content, services and applications inherent to the connection which consumer the bandwidth. For fixed broadband to function effectively, it must be supported by a high capacity transmission ‘backbone’ network capable of delivering bandwidth through which connection can be accessed. With Africa’s entire international Internet bandwidth supplied either by satellite, via submarine cable or through terrestrial networks connected to submarine cables, a way must be found to harness and distribute this internet capacity. Governmental regimes, cross-regional organisations and local regional companies are all behind developing shared infrastructure, overhead cabling and reduced wholesale pricing to facilitate this absorption. Currently, however, most internet access in Africa is concentrated in bigger, more international economies such as Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa: and smaller, tourist-oriented islands such as the Seychelles and Mauritius.Africa Fixed Broadband
East Africa was the last major region globally to gain access to fibre-optic broadband enabled Internet connection in 2009; South Africa has recently been in the news for its infamously slow internet connectivity. Sub-Saharan Africa currently enjoy around a 75% penetration rate in terms of voice servers: but regarding connectivity the region lags behind the rest of the developed and developing world. Despite regions and countries enforcing programmes to encourage the development of bandwidth availability and increasing connection cables in a wider non-urban area, by mid-2015 only around 8% of the bandwidth being generated was being utilised effectively.
Recently MainOne, a ‘telecom services and network solutions’ provider based in Nigeria, have invested over $300 million (USD – equivalent to approx. 60Bn Nigerian Naira) in fixed broadband infrastructure networks based in and around West Africa. The aim of this unprecedented technological investment is to improve accessibility of fixed broadband across West Africa, with the 7000km submarine cable stretching from Europe established as an attempt to bridge the ‘digital divide’ between West Africa and the rest of the world.
MainOne, who began as a submarine cable operating company but are now a full-service business-to-business communications service provider, aim to become the dominant provider of wholesale internet services in West Africa. With an already-established seven receptor countries and over 500 telecom operators, MainOne are hoping that broadband infrastructure remains a top priority for the continent.