Experts at the International Telecoms Week conference in Chicago highlighted the need to accelerate investment in Africa to facilitate the continent’s broadband data explosion.
Based on the theme “Achieving a connected continent: leading the data explosion across Africa”, the expert panel session with participation from Google, Facebook, WIOCC, Liquid Telecom and Angola Cables discussed strategies for achieving improved broadband access across the continent.
The consensus was that the data explosion will need to be driven by further investment in local networks to reach more end users rather than new submarine cables. The session brought to light that while most African submarine cable systems had the capability to deliver 100 Gbps wavelengths, Africa has not utilised enough capacity to saturate those systems.
Facebook’s regional head, Africa for Express Wifi, Uche Ofodile shared the company’s experiences working with carriers to jointly make infrastructure investments and highlighted its initiatives in Uganda, where it is working with Airtel to deploy fibre backhaul, stressing that demand and favourable regulatory environments informed their decisions to invest. The need to go beyond mobile infrastructure was also highlighted by the CEO of Liquid Telecom, Nic Rudnick :“As consumers in Africa start to use the internet for content, TV and on-demand services, mobile will have its limitations, not just in terms of technology, but also in price. We need to look at other technologies to achieve cost effectiveness”.
The panelists’ assessment also indicated that most of the content consumed in Africa is hosted in Europe. Data centre operators, MainOne and Liquid shared their experience that initial demand on the continent has been driven by enterprises and financial institutions as against other geographies where OTT players are the biggest data centre players. “We do not see any of these OTTs hosting their services from Africa. We are not seeing meaningful investments coming into Africa (from OTT players) and with the sizeable population of the continent, we need to see them play a larger role in the African ecosystem”, the panel concluded.