BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS FOR AFRICA
By Paul Ndiho
August 25, 2010
New fiber optic cables connecting Africa with the rest of the world are making high speed internet access more widely available on the continent. Does that mean cheaper and faster broadband connections will transform the way business is done and how people communicate in Africa?
Streaming video or calling over the internet is something taken for granted in the United States, but in most parts of Africa it has not been possible because of slow and patchy internet services, relying heavily on limited and expensive satellite links. Austin Gara, says that fiber optic transmits at the speed of light.
“Technology is basically using sound through waves and the atmosphere. And that tends to be very slow when you are transmitting voice, video and data. This is what we call latency or the delay in the signals. But now we are moving over to fiber optic cable technology, which transmits at the speed of light.”
Now a new undersea fiber optic cable links West Africa to Europe and the rest of the world. Business analysts say the cable paves the way for a transformation in internet access and will enable service providers to offer cheaper and more reliable internet services.
“What we see for our customers is a much better, faster, quicker broadband service to their mobile phones and to their laptops. This market is really crying out for it. There is a tremendous demand for it out there and I think this is the beginning of a new era actually in terms of broadband connectivity to Nigeria.
Participants from Bangalore, London and Johannesburg took part in the launch using teleconferencing facilities — not previously possible in Nigeria – hosted by U.S. router maker Cisco Systems, which is partnering with Main One to develop applications for the Nigerian market.
In neighboring Togo, wireless internet is becoming more accessible with the introduction of USB modems, providing faster internet connections.
“We welcome every improvement and the spirit because when you visit other countries just like South Africa there internet is very fast.”
Since last year, Togo Telecom – the country’s public telecoms operator – has been working to dramatically increase the country’s internet capabilities.
“When fiber comes, I think the speed will go up and the prices will come down.”
“The speed of the internet at the cafes is quite slow that and that make it very expensive.”
Mobile phone service provider Moov Togo is also providing wireless internet.
“What motivates us is first of all our commitment to revolutionize the mobile phone market in Togo, but also to make access easier for mobile services. Today, for us, a mobile phone is not a luxury, neither is the internet. People should be able to have easy access to the latest technology, and by launching Moov internet, we put forward the most aggressive tariffs.”
Millions of people in rural parts of Africa are not yet covered by any mobile phone network, let alone one that would support Internet access. To do that, many business analysts say countries need to build a viable infrastructure, set up regional exchanges, and provide connectivity to homes and businesses.