Gabrielle Gauthey at Mobile World Congress
By Gabrielle Gauthey, Vice President of Public Affairs for Alcatel-Lucent.
Africa has witnessed remarkable mobile growth in the past 10 years. Across the continent, the coverage and quality of the networks has dramatically improved.
According to the 2011 GSMA Observatory Report (download the PDF), Africa is the world’s second largest mobile market by connections after Asia, and the fastest growing mobile market in the world.
With its one billion inhabitants, Africa surpassed 650 million mobile connections in 2011 (Sources: World Bank, Wireless Intelligence and ITU). Despite this success, mobile penetration is still the lowest when compared to the other continents (less than 60%) leaving a large part of the rural population un-connected.
Africa’s fixed infrastructure is under-developed and practically inexistent in several countries. It is still at the beginning of its broadband growth curve and represents only 5% of the Internet users worldwide.
However, African governments are increasingly aware of the enabling power of broadband for social and economic growth. ICTs directly contribute around 7% of Africa’s GDP, which is higher than the global average. Projected ICT expenditures in Africa will exceed US $150 billion (Sources: World Bank, African development Indicators, ITU Measuring the information Society 2011).
Public authorities have set ambitious objectives for creating an enabling environment for broadband investments. More than 70,000 km of submarine cables and over 600,000 km of national fiber-optic backbone networks – a lot of them built in ‘public-private partnerships’ – have been laid in recent years connecting Africa to the rest of the world and facilitating cross-border trade. As a result, overall Internet bandwidth grew twentyfold between 2008 and 2012.
Tremendous efforts are also being spent on the expansion of the mobile coverage and on network modernization to ensure that they are capable of delivering broadband to as much of the population as possible.
The liberalization of the market across the continent has resulted in a noticeable increase in competition and has attracted investment. There has been strong commercial interest in licenses for the spectrum, and data services.
Several initiatives are also being undertaken to stimulate the demand for broadband services. Governments are setting examples by modernizing usage of services to the citizens, connecting public institutions such as schools and hospitals to the Internet, and transforming some vital industry sectors such as education, health, financial services, and agriculture leveraging on cross-sector fertilization of ICT strategies.
There is considerable evidence of the potential for broadband growth in Africa. The major regional mobile operators are increasing their strategic focus on the region.
For Alcatel-Lucent, Africa represents a great opportunity, playing an active role in this mobile and broadband revolution, and in the undergoing social end economical development of the continent.
Just today, the company has announced that it will help Bharti Airtel meet the rapidly growing demand for mobile broadband services in its African operations by supplying advanced new IP (Internet Protocol)-based networking technology to support new mobile broadband data and video services (read the press release).
This is an exciting breakthrough as the new backbone network will support all mobile broadband services to Airtel’s 17 affiliates across Africa – serving 60 million customers – as well as a much more robust interconnection to global networks including the UK.
Today’s Airtel announcement follows closely a number of key business developments in Africa that Alcatel-Lucent has unveiled in recent months:
- A partnering agreement with the African wireless service provider Smile to introduce 4G mobile broadband services in Tanzania, and Uganda for the provision of lightning-fast LTE services.
- Alcatel-Lucent and NITA – the information and communications technology (ICT) policy arm of Ghana’s Ministry of Communications – are expanding communication links between central and regional administration offices in support of e-Ghana, a national initiative to develop local IT services and improve the transparency and efficiency of government functions. Alcatel-Lucent is designing and implementing a 600km fiber-optic ‘backbone’ network to provide high-speed data links between central government functions and remote and rural locations. In addition, Alcatel-Lucent will provide a national data center facility to support the network.
- Angola Cables is establishing a terrestrial fiber-optic link with the West African Cable System (WACS), the submarine communications network connecting the countries of West Africa with Europe. The new fiber-optic network in Angola – established using 100 gigabit-per-second (100G) optical coherent technology from Alcatel-Lucent – will support Internet services for customers of communications service providers in Angola as well as in neighboring countries, dramatically increasing Internet availability in this underserved region.
- Telkom SA, one of the largest integrated communications companies in Africa, is dramatically expanding the availability of superfast broadband services throughout South Africa. Alcatel-Lucent is supplying the network equipment to enable this network transformation. The project – which is part of Telkom’s strategic ‘Network Transformation Initiative’ – includes upgrading the existing access network with new-generation VDSL2 technology serving 4.4 million subscribers, and where commercially viable will also include the introduction of gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technologies to support fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) capabilities. These new technologies will be key enablers for potential future services such as Video on Demand, IPTV, and high quality voice services
These four examples highlight the growing appetite for broadband in Africa and the strategic positioning for Alcatel-Lucent in the continent for many years to come.