The Africa Fibre Forum 2023, hosted by the Digital Council Africa (DCA) and co-sponsored by Huawei and the World Broadband Association (WBBA), took place in Cape Town recently and saw a multitude of stakeholders commit to accelerating the roll-out of fibre across Africa.
Set against the backdrop of AfricaCom, the continent’s largest technology conference, the event brought together more than 100 industry leaders and experts from 50 organisations and several media outlets.
Among the consensus points reached during the event was that digitalisation and globalisation had made the fibre infrastructure industry more important and relevant than ever.
Having the right policies and ecosystems in place is key to accelerating fibre infrastructure deployment. In line with this, many African countries and operators will launch more fibre strategies and establish practices in support of it, setting the continent up for a fibre broadband explosion.
Representatives from the African Telecommunications Union (ATU), the department of communications & digital technologies of South Africa, major operators, vendors, associations (DCA and WBBA) and consultants (Africa Analysis) held in-depth discussions on the key challenges of accelerating fibre coverage in Africa, fibre strategy and policy, and how to accelerate broadband adoption and promote the overarching broadband service economy in Africa.
Twelve industry players made commitments and announcements at the event.
“In order to accelerate fibre industry development, we must actively advocate for legislative changes that acknowledge the unique nature of fibre deployment,” ATU secretary general John Omo said. Policymakers, industry experts and key stakeholders must engage in a collaborative dialogue to formulate policies that streamline regulatory processes, incentivise private investments and encourage public-private partnerships that catalyse innovation and operational efficiency.”
This sentiment was further underlined by Philly Mapulane, South Africa’s deputy communications minister.
“The World Economic Forum recently published an article on global digital quality of life,” he said. “A concerning observation in it is that Africa has the slowest internet speeds globally, 195% slower than Europe’s average for mobile internet speeds and 418% slower than Europe’s fixed internet speeds. Investment in fibre is our best bet at turning the situation around.”
“Digital infrastructure, in particular fibre networks, is essential to support the digital economy and to harness opportunities offered by the emerging technologies and innovations,” he added. “Universal, high-quality, affordable and inclusive connectivity is dependent on extensive deployment and use of fibre networks.”
Martin Creaner, World Broadband Association (WWBA) director-general, backed up the call for greater collaboration across the ecosystem.
“The world will add another 243 million fixed connections over the coming five years, most of them fibre, so that by 2027, 32% of the global population will be connected, up from only 23% in 2020,” he said. “The African continent is in the fast lane of broadband connectivity with a faster rate of growth and greater potential for growth than any other region of the world.”
“To realise this potential,” he added, “we need to introduce more investors to the continent to fund connectivity initiatives, while encouraging regulators and governments to step up policies prioritising fibre infrastructure rollout and sharing.
“Additionally, the broadband ecosystem must identify affordable and innovative broadband solutions for countries with limited resources. The WBBA is providing a worldwide platform for all stakeholders to come together to address broadband development, and Africa as always been at the core of the WBBA mission.”
Fortunately, more and more players seem to be onboard with the importance of fibre.
“In the past, I would’ve had to give the ‘why fibre’ talk,” said DCA’s Juanita Clark. “Today, I don’t feel like I have to because everyone understands how important it is.”
Huawei Southern Africa carrier network business group president Samuel Chen emphasised the immense potential that fibre holds for the African continent.
“Connectivity is rapidly changing our lives, but compared with the global average, the penetration rate of access fibre in Africa is much lower, which restricts the digitalisation process in Africa,” he said. “However, Africa’s broadband growth rate is the highest in the world.”
Based on local conditions and global best practices, he told event attendees Huawei has been actively exploring the best path for the development of the fibre industry in Africa and providing cost-effective solutions with the highest efficiency and premium experience. These include the “one fibre network for full service” methodology and the innovative AirPON solution. In addition, Huawei has explored and practised cutting-edge technologies such as FTTR and IPv6+ in Africa.
According to Dietlof Mare, South African fibre provider Vumatel’s CEO, it’s not just about installing fibre, but ensuring that fibre connections are of the right quality.
“In Africa, you cannot afford to take shortcuts on quality,” he said, adding that enhanced access will quickly create demand. He cites the example of houses in the low-income Cape Town suburb of Mitchell’s Plain going from having no connectivity to using 300GB of data a month each. Stakeholders in the fibre market, he pointed out, need to be aware of this.
“It’s data access in abundance,” he said. “That’s what we want to try and create.”
According to DCA president Andile Ngcaba, this access needs to be built with a long term approach in mind.
“To overcome the challenges we still have, we need to think about our continent on a long-term basis. In 2050, we will have 2.5 billion people on the continent. What can we do to address this moving connectivity target?”
An important part of AfricaCom, the forum was deemed a success, as the consensus reached and experiences shared will certainly play a positive role in promoting the African fibre industry.
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