Fibre for Africa

September 26, 2008

The consensus seems to be that Africa needs more land and submarine links to provide enough bandwidth for its long-term growth, and bring down satellite Internet costs.

East Africa currently depends completely on expensive satellite bandwidth. There are several projects in progress to lay submarine cables down the east and west coasts, and it can be difficult to keep track of them all.

Luckily, Steve Song has drawn an excellent map here. I’m linking it here to help people find it (including myself, next time I need that map).

We also need overland connections to help bring that bandwidth to landlocked countries, to help them share and compete with each other, and to network rural areas. Fibre, copper and microwave are the traditional and expensive options, O3B wants to provide a satellite alternative, but the TIER group‘s WiLDNet project has the most disruptive potential in my view, potentially replacing microwave links with something that’s a hundred times cheaper and can be bought off the shelf.

TIER also wants to see their technology used to provide international bandwidth and compete with the undersea cables:

The vision is to connect Gilbraltar, which has low-cost world-class bandwidth and hosting, overland via long-distance Wifi through Morocco/Algerian, Mali, Burkina Faso, to Ghana.  This means crossing the Sahara, which is certainly not trivial.  (Timbuktu is roughly on this path.)  The article said 6 Mb/s, but I am thinking something much higher.  Although this is a crazy idea, I think it is much cheaper than many proposed projects, and if it worked you could grow the network over time and also increase BW for busy links, even moving to fiber once you have the traffic to pay for it.

(reference, video)

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4 Responses to “Fibre for Africa”

  1. jim jay said

    I think that whilst it’s important to ensure people don’t get any illusions that there are a magical techno-fixes for their problems if you aren’t physically connected it is a substantial problem.

    There are a number of people who are skeptical about the idea that you can *just add bandwidth* – and they are right, as long as that argument doesn’t go so far as to say bandwidth is irrelevant.

  2. Permalink for the African Undersea Cables map is now at http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/

    -Steve

  3. jellyfishcoolman said

    Hi. I have seen your analysis. What do you think will be the effect of WiMax on your WiLD project? I do however like the low cost aspect of it. I guess time will tell. With the submarine cables arriving I think the next battle ground will be connecting the masses and especially the rural folk. This could be the most radical revolution in telecomms. If it is cheap and efficient then it could work but we have to watch what WiMax does too.

  4. chrisw said

    jellyfishcoolman, the WiLD project is not mine, but I feel that wimax is still at the expensive end of the communications market, similar to microwave. I think it is mostly deployed by carriers in licensed spectrum, and therefore not disruptive and itself susceptible to disruptive technologies.

    Of course the industry may roll out wimax or fibre along routes than WiLD plans to cover, or alternative routes between those points, but the infrastructure costs and legal barriers are likely to make that a long, slow and expensive process, which WiLD can bypass by being unlicensed.

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