Expansion plans

There is every reason to be optimistic about the future of the MEA telecoms sector
Roger Field is group editor at ITP.
Roger Field is group editor at ITP.

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It’s been less than two years since I abandoned my post as editor of CommsMEA to switch to the world of content production on Digital Studio magazine, which is also part of ITP Business Publishing’s stable. As I take the reigns of CommsMEA for the month of January as caretaker editor, it seems like the ideal opportunity to assess the changes that have taken place in the region’s telecoms industry in the couple of years I’ve been away.

Perhaps the biggest and most noticeable change is the rise of 5G as a tangible discussion point. Two years ago, it was far enough away in the future to ignore, but now it is clear that 5G networks will soon be required to provide seamless access to a new breed of services, from ever more intense video transfer to - further down the road - innovations such as driverless cars.

As you will see from our feature on page 29 (Aiming for 5G), CommsMEA has sought the knowledge of some of the brightest minds in the region’s telecoms space to discover just what operators should be doing to prepare their networks for 5G. What emerges from this report is that the subject is multifaceted, with much to consider. It is certainly better for operators to start working towards 5G sooner rather than later to ensure they make investments that match future demand.

But while developed markets are thinking about the next generation of telecoms technology, many parts of the world remain stubbornly in the past. While mobile broadband has spread to many rural areas in developing markets, broadband coverage still remains patchy for significant populations in a number of markets.

As the report from the ITU (see page 44) makes clear, broadband connections are spreading fast, but more work remains to be done. To put things in perspective, by 2020 - when the first 5G networks are expected to go live - some 44% of households around the world will still lack internet access. Obviously much work remains to be done.

Thankfully, many dedicated operators are stepping up to the challenge, as our cover story makes clear. Smile is investing heavily in bringing LTE connectivity to three African countries, Nigeria, Uganda and Tanzania and also has plans to launch in more markets. Far from just focusing on metropolitan areas, Smile is also reaching out into rural areas in line with its founding principles.

Another positive development covered this month is the news that Liquid Telecom is planning to deploy a 20-30Tbps capacity submarine cable connecting Africa to the Middle East. The project will include landing stations at several ports that are currently not served by existing subsea cables.

What amazes me is that these developments have all appeared in the space of a few months, indicating the region’s telecoms sector is moving boldly in the right direction. Enjoy the issue.

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