7 Nov 2012

The Next 10 Years of African Connectivity

Ben Roberts, CTO,
Liquid Telecom
Hear from Ben Roberts, CTO of Liquid Telecom. Liquid Telecom are proud sponsors of AfricaCom

We all know that the African telecoms market has made huge – and exciting - progress over the last few years; sub-sea capacity probably now exceeds current demand, competition (not necessarily capacity) has brought about a rapid crash in prices and terrestrial fibre networks are being built.

Looking into the future we see a host of possibilities and challenges which will impact on each other:

  • FTTH, WIMAX, LTE and ADSL networks will continue to be built and local loop unbundling will also hopefully start

  • The investment in high speed last mile connectivity will drive growth in subscribers.  More subscribers, using services based around high-speed content, should drive down the cost per Mbps and drive further subscriber growth

  • There will be more investment in terrestrial trunk routes and both national backhaul and cross border links will grow by business cases

  • Interconnection will be one of the hot topics with different businesses adopting different strategies.

Interconnection strategies
Today in Africa, we have some cross-border connections that are mostly selling commercial transit to countries with no landing stations.  However, most African Internet traffic routing is between partially terrestrially connected Africa and in most cases the African Internet is just connecting Africa to Europe. 

Landlocked countries are often taking terrestrial backhaul straight to the nearest cable landing station. Very little content is hosted in Africa though some content is cached regionally.

However, as cross-border traffic increases different types of operators have – and will – adopt one of four strategies:

The National incumbent Telco or PTO may have connection to borders where it interconnects to a similar entity in a neighbouring country but its network almost certainly stops at its own border.

Its cross-border connection may be used for voice, IPLC half circuit and OSS, maybe to sell Internet transit or buy Internet transit from its neighbour. The problems with such connections are lack of SLA and the use of different operator networks mean that there are unlikely to be any SLA or QoS guarantees.

Pan-African Operators – like the MNO Groups, Academic Networks etc
These companies will have sizeable bandwidth needs and a national network in a number of countries that are not necessarily bordering.  As they will have made substantial investments in subsea capacity at a group level, they will link their networks to a Pan African network, aggregating and hubbing the purchased sub-sea capacity at strategic landing points. 

Independent SNO or ISP
These entrepreneurial companies are more focused on last mile and customer acquisition than long distance infrastructure projects though they may have business customers needing international private VPNs.

They will usually interconnect via existing backhaul networks or satellite.

Cross-border operators like Liquid Telecom

Independent wholesale carrier Liquid Telecom has built a fibre network that crosses multiple borders in Southern Africa.  We are servicing the needs of operators of all shapes and sizes providing connectivity to support enterprise, home user and rural broadband customers.   Liquid’s approach is far-sighted and its goal is to keep African traffic in Africa.

The Future

One thing we know for sure is that the Internet won’t develop according to any kind of co-ordinated plan.  This would be impossible given the number of operators and countries involved.  However, we can be sure that, thanks to market forces, broadband will end up being affordable to the majority of residents and businesses.

At Liquid we are aiming for a future that is likely to consist of a diverse connected network. Terrestrial backhaul links will be complete and used to develop networks. Much more content will be produced and hosted in Africa leading to the need for greater interconnection.

About Liquid Telecom   www.liquidtelecom.com

Liquid Telecom has built the largest fibre network in Southern Africa providing backhaul between most urban areas and last mile connectivity in the main cities of Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa. Liquid’s network is the first to cross country borders and covers some of the most challenging parts of the world where no fixed network has existed before.  It operates as a wholesale carrier in all five countries as well as an operator in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Come to our booth at AfricaCom to learn more or email bridget@telecomsparafrica.com to arrange a meeting.