Fibre and satellite should address different needs in Africa

Earlier this year, African carrier's carrier WIOCC asked a panel of experts - among them Andrew Doyle of Mott MacDonald - how they would invest $100 million in African ICT. This week, in the run-up to AfricaCom, Developing Telecoms will republish their opinions.

A network is only as good as its slowest link and the next phase of African ICT development must focus on the improvement of domestic and intra-regional networks. We are involved in numerous long-distance and metropolitan fibre projects aimed at improving capacity and connecting with high-capacity submarine landing points.

Similarly, we’ve worked with a number of utilities looking to put their own fibre capacity to commercial use – competing at wholesale level. It is at this wholesale level that investors, entrepreneurs and infrastructure players could make significant returns.

Retail operators, application providers and device manufacturers need stronger wholesale provision to make sure that the customer experience is as stable and fast as possible. End-to-end quality of service is missing in many African markets, with a lack of domestic capacity affecting services and pricing. Huge numbers of people remain unconnected to mobile networks.

In addition to fibre and wireless access (2G/3G/4G) technologies, we see big opportunities for satellite to play a role in rural and low density population areas. Satellite operators are developing broadband propositions, while offering competitive back-haul solutions for mobile operators.

The answer to African network bottlenecks is not a fibre versus wireless versus satellite play. Rather, there will be a range of technology responses to meet different needs. The next wave of investment needs to fill the domestic network deficit gap between consumer demand at the edge of the network and international capacity.

Andrew Doyle is the Managing Director of Technology and Communications Consulting at Mott MacDonald.

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