14 Jun 2012

John Earley, President of Ceragon Africa and Middle East shares his views on how “Microwave Expansion Improves Connectivity for Africa”

Ceragon is exhibiting at West and Central Africa Com, taking place today at King Fahd Palace in Dakar, Senegal. 

John Earley, the President of Ceragon Africa and Middle East is our guest blogger for the week. Today he shares his views on how “Microwave Expansion Improves Connectivity for Africa”

Africa is connected directly, telecommunications-wise, to Europe, South America, and the Middle East via the subsea cables that were laid in the last decade and that surround the continent. This, of course, enables African governments, multinational corporations and other organizations to open up African communications to the rest of the world. However, there is still the problem of connecting up cities, towns and villages, especially those that are not very close to the subsea cables, so that the bulk of the population of African countries can enjoy the benefits of the Internet and international data communications services.

Terrestrial fibre cable has traditionally been considered the long-term solution for Africa’s connectivity demands. At the start of 2010, there were more than 300Gbps of Internet capacity in place on the African continent. By the end of that year, Internet traffic had already grown an additional 70% to more than 500Gbps. Where available, fibre accommodates this growth so, governments and private operators have rolled out many kilometres of fibre cable both internally and across national borders to bring networks together and to establish and improve connectivity with the subsea cables.  But it seems that even after more than five years and hundreds of thousands of kilometres of deployed fibre, connectivity is still a problem. 

The African environment makes fibre deployment difficult for a number of reasons.
  •   Fibre is expensive to deploy and operate especially over long distances 
  • Breaks in the Fibre, malicious or accidental, are a daily occurrence 

 Fibre Deployment. Greenfield fibre deployment is a time-consuming and expensive activity. The costs for trenching and deploying fibre increase rapidly with distance. Right-of-way permits and the labour-intensiveness of trenching add significantly to the cost and the time required. Fibre requires significant supporting equipment. For example, network interface cards (NICs) for fibre cables can cost $1,000 each and a fibre network requires thousands of them.  For connecting highly populated areas, fibre deployment can be justified. However, as Africa comprises many large countries with population centres separated by vast distances, not to mention numerous remote areas, Fibre deployment becomes exceedingly expensive.

Fibre Breaks. After a fibre break, in the best cases, severely restricted back-up services to fibre routes are dimensioned to carry only essential voice and signaling traffic leaving the growing IP-based data services at risk along with the revenues they generate.  In the worst cases, fibre breaks destroy connectivity completely for unacceptably long periods of time.  With vast road construction, poor environmental management and erratic observance of planning procedures, no country in Africa is immune. In Nigeria alone, there are, on average, fourteen fibre breaks per 100km per year leading to a colossal 2,200 hours of network down-time! When a fibre break occurs, the expectations that customers have built up for accessibility and quality of service are destroyed.  

Africa is returning to microwave.
Although they neglected long-haul microwave in favour of fibre, African network operators are re-thinking their strategies. Where microwave was once considered a less desirable technology than fibre, operators are now seeing significant advantages.
Microwave is particularly suitable to the African environment due to technology advances, lower deployment costs, ease of maintenance, and practical backup strategies. For example, Celtel has installed a long-haul microwave link to improve communications between Uganda and Tanzania. A new microwave link now connects Tangiers, Morocco with Tarifa, Spain.  

Advances in Capacity. Today’s microwave technology provides impressive long-haul capacity. Where outdated routes were previously limited to two or three STM1s, they now carry capacities measured in gigabits. Innovative technologies, like advanced modulation and multi-channel bandwidth control empower network operators to provide true high capacity on long-haul routes. Today’s long-haul microwave provides abundant capacity far in excess of Africa’s current and predicted demand.

Advances in Reliability. Where inclement weather and other types of interference used to be mitigating factors in microwave link availability, leading microwave equipment vendors are now able to keep their long-haul transmission links functional even in transient fading conditions. For example, Ceragon Networks’ systems sense the quality of the transmission link and can automatically decrease the modulation technique in case of degraded signal quality due to interference or other microwave propagation problems. So, if a microwave transmission is humming along at maximum capacity and it suddenly encounters fading, the Ceragon microwave system automatically steps down the modulation to lower levels until the transmission network maintains the requisite level of reliability. The traffic is distributed over all carriers using Multi-carrier Adaptive Bandwidth Control (ABC), so, when one carrier is affected by reduced modulation, the link distributes traffic to the remaining carriers making the link appear as a single dynamic, high-capacity pipe. As the transient problems disappear, the resilient microwave system automatically re-applies more efficient modulation techniques to regain full capacity. All of this occurs automatically with split-second timing and without human intervention.

Deployment Costs and Speed. Long-haul microwave links are significantly less expensive and speedier to deploy than fibre. Right-of-way issues and expensive trenching are avoided while complete microwave networks can be implemented economically in just weeks reducing the operator’s time-to-revenue and service provision. Unlike fibre, microwave deployment costs do not increase with distance. Long-distance hops of 20, 50 or even more than 100 kms are practical to implement.
Microwave is an excellent fit for large African countries with vast territories between population centres and is enjoying a resurgence in Africa.

You are invited to attend West and Central Africa Com, taking place today at King Fahd Palace in Dakar, Senegal. 

For more information, please visit our website www.comworldseries.com/wcafrica