Today’s indicator figure is 73,862
73,862 of what?
73,862 kilometers of operational fibre optics lines carrying telecommunication signals throughout East African Community (EAC) countries as of December 2017 according to Hamilton Research’s Bandwidth Maps. Hamilton Research has industry-leading tracking and reporting of telecommunication network infrastructure throughout Africa. This statistic includes terrestrial long-haul and metropolitan fibre networks which connect to the global submarine fibre opticscables which land at Dar-es-Salaam and Mombasa.
What are fibre optics and what do they do?
Fibre optics are cables made of thin flexible fibres of glass or other transparent materials to facilitate telecommunications. To transmit information a coded beam of light is sent through the fibre optics cables. While not future-proof it is unlikely that a new faster technology will be used for large volumes of information transmission in the near future.
Which EAC country has the highest and which the lowest fibre optics integration?
Tanzania has the highest volume of fibre optics cables in operation with 29,303 km, followed by Kenya and Uganda with 26,017 km and 9,235 km respectively. Rwanda has 4,707 km and Burundi has 4,600 km of fibre optics cables in operation.
What are the challenges to expanding the fibre optics networks in the EAC?
Where land rights are not clearly defined, the laying of fibre optics cables can be stalled or slowed until the question of who owns the land is resolved.
While great progress has been made in the past ten years, a big challenge for major players has been to install the last mile cables. As private sector companies are laying nearly all the cables, the last mile cables to connect to consumer premises have proven to be more challenging and capital-intensive because of the lack of partnership from civil society actors.
Despite all of the challenges, the general mood to bring high speed internet via fibre optics has been very positive. The citizens and broader societies want the opportunities and economic growth that faster, more reliable internet can bring.
How does the EAC’s fibre optics connection compare to other regions of the world?
It is small but growing. EAC’s development of fibre optics services is limited – parallel to other infrastructural development seen in roads, ports, and other networks. The growth of fibre optics networks and economic activity connected to them is forecast to grow dramatically in the next decade.
The largest concentrations of fibre optics networks are in Europe, North America and Asia. The European and North American markets are expected to grow somewhat while higher growth is expected from Asia especially in the Pacific regions.
Latin America and the Middle East have a relatively lower concentration of fibre optics networks and moderate growth has been forecast.
Is the fibre optics connection rate in the EAC increasing or decreasing?
It is increasing dramatically. As of five years ago there were 16,293 km of fibre optics connections in EAC countries; today there are 4.5 times the connections in operation with an additional 21,200 km presently in construction and 20,249 km planned or proposed.
As more and more consumers get connected to mobile phones and internet services the demand for bandwidth increases as does the demand for fibre optics.
What are the economic implications of more fibre optics connections?
World Bank research shows that a 10% increase in broadband services creates a 1.38% boost in economic growth per year.
The economic benefits from higher fibre optics connectivity bring many opportunities. Business growth is supported with greater connections to mentors, capital, resources for inputs and customers. Education will have an added dimension to it that can engage the visions and talents of younger generations. The tourism industry will likely be positively impacted, as many on holiday prefer to be connected. Greater communications with other companies, associations, entities and programs will help the opportunities on the global market place find their way to East Africa.
Which organizations are working to expand fibre optics in the EAC?
Liquid Telecom- This company has laid 18,000 kilometers of fibre optics cables in East Africa and Southern Africa. Liquid Telecom focuses on connecting unserved and underserved communities and regions.
Hurricane Electric based in Nairobi, Kenya, is developing a pan-African network north and south of Nairobi.
Google has focused its fibre optics and other intensive programs on Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. Google has laid at least 1000 km of fibre optics cables in each of these countries. Its goals are to help open these markets, train people in specialized skills, and make their Android technology more accessible for the average person.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg travelled to conferences in the same three African countries. However, Facebook has laid 800 km of fibre optics cables in Uganda and was planning to launch a satellite that would supply internet access but that has apparently been delayed due to technical obstacles.
How can I learn more?
Hamilton Research Bandwidth Maps – http://www.africabandwidthmaps.com/
World Bank Broadband Indicators – https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/IT.NET.BBND
Fibre to the Home Africa – http://www.ftthcouncilafrica.com/
Network Startup Resource Center Maps – https://afterfibre.nsrc.org
About the authors:
David L. Ross is Managing Director of Statera Capital and US Ambassador to the Open University of Tanzania active in growing companies in Eastern and Southern Africa through primary investment, investment advisory, strategic partnerships, and executive education. Connect on LinkedIn at http://tz.linkedin.com/in/davidlross1 or at [email protected]