Table of Contents
LTE or Fibre—What Technology will Drive the Last Mile?
This market insight provides a comprehensive analysis of the challenges that Africa is facing in terms of the delivery of communication services to the last mile. It focuses on the main market features and challenges that create bottlenecks in the telecom network. Included is a discussion of the key market trends that drive the demand for broadband access and how service providers are responding to industry challenges to meet this demand. The study also highlights the emerging technologies expected to lead fixed line and mobile broadband services in Africa.
- Despite the increase in bandwidth following the landing of undersea cables, African countries still struggle to provide broadband access to the wider population.
- The key challenge for operators and, given their vested interest, governments, is the high cost of extending the reach of fibre in the last mile.
- A particular challenge is the cost of connecting rural populations, which still constitute the major share of the populace in most African countries.
- Governments believe that making broadband access more ubiquitous will boost economic growth, driven by information and communications technology (ICT) services, such as e-commerce, mobile money, and cloud computing applications.
- Under-investment in last mile connectivity exhibits rational investor behaviour, as operators struggle to see a reasonable return on investment (ROI) because of the capital-intensity of expanding their infrastructure.
- This under-investment is especially clear in rural areas where low and scattered populations make access to quality, high bandwidth services a costly undertaking.
- While rural broadband provision remains an issue even in developed countries, in Africa this is compounded by under-developed fixed line infrastructure, limited access to reliable electricity sources, and large segments of the population with low income levels.
- Unlike in the developed world, African countries have not been able to gradually ramp up their broadband connectivity due to a lack of fixed line infrastructure.
- With the exception of South Africa, most countries in Africa do not have sufficient copper-based backhaul networks to offer digital subscriber line (DSL) services.
- As a result, operators and Internet service providers (ISPs) in countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria have turned to fibre to provide backhaul and fixed line last mile services.
- However, due to the high cost of extending the network in the last mile, the move to fibre-based access has been slow, with fibre to the home (FTTH) services only emerging in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa in recent years.
- Most operators have built their broadband services around wireless networks such as 3G and 4G. Ghana, for example, has limited fixed line infrastructure but one of the highest mobile broadband penetration rates on the continent, at over %.
- The expansion and the reliability of these networks, particularly in rural areas, has been stymied by the continent’s poor electricity supply. In parts of Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, base stations are either completely off the grid or face intermittent electricity supply.
- Therefore, operators in some parts of the continent are employing infrastructure sharing models. There is also a growing opportunity for renewable energy providers to supply power to base stations in remote areas.
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