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NORTH AFRICAN ADSL ROLL-OUTS - THE BEGINNING OF THE SPREAD OF HIGHER BANDWIDTH OFFERINGS

Last week saw the announcement of ADSL broadband roll-outs in Algeria and Morocco by the incumbent telcos. Not so long ago broadband would have seemed a crazy commercial strategy in what are relatively small markets. But Maroc Telecom is claiming relatively short payback periods. These two North African countries are joining an exclusive club (Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia) whose membership suddenly looks like getting larger. Others are in the wings waiting to join. The potential of broadband (particularly its wireless variants) may lead to a substantial increase in Africa’s international bandwidth requirements.

Last week saw a gathering of VIPs including the Minister of Post and Information Technology at Hôtel El Djazaïr to inaugerate the first ADSL service in Algeria. The launch ceremony included a video-conference with HEC in Canada. ADSL has been launched at the central telephone exchange and can provide service in the following places: Algiers, Constantine, Tizi Ouzou, Oran, Sétif, Annaba and Batna. The initial target for ADSL subscribers is 10,000, an ambitious target given that South Africa has only recently passed that number.

Algerie telecom wants to offer it at an affordable price to companies and the public sector. This subscription requires only that you buy a dedicated ADSL modem. This comes in two models: an ethernet version (for companies and cybercafes) and a USB version. These will offer 128 Kbp/s, 256 Kbp/s, 512 Kbp/s at respectively (without tax) 38,000 DA , 55,000 DA and 75,000 DA.

Also last week Maroc Telecom obtained authorisation from the regulator to sell ADSL. Having passed various quality tests it has been given the green light to sell the service. Although local commentators thought the market would be "limited". It has started offering promotional packages to new clients. Maroc Telecom started down this road in November 2002 and started testing the service in Rabat and Casablanca. At present capacity is limited.

As in Algeria, the primary market is seen as being corporates (more specicifically large ones). The service is offered in three bandwidth capacities. 128 Kbps, 256 Kbps and 512 Kbps. Prices per month are respectively 479 dirhams (44 euros), 859 dh (79 euros) and 1 609 dh (147,5 euros). One small hiccup is that apparently the download times are limited and you will a supplement of 1.50 dh for every supplementary "méga-octet". This will pose a serious problem for potential cyber-café users as they have no easy way of controlling the use by their users.

Maroc Telecom says it will have to invest about 400 euros per subscriber which gives a direct cost payback period of about 10 months and shorter on the higher price bands. It will not say how many users it has currently signed up.

As Adlane Fellah said in issue 151, there are considerable opportunities for the use of broadband wireless. Countries such as Botswana, Ghana and Nigeria are auctioning frequencies for specific BWA applications. Other countries, for example Lesotho and Morocco, were at that stage examining the technology seriously with local companies requesting information for systems vendors. BWA wide-scale commercial deployments are happening in Botswana (Airspan), South Africa (Airspan) and Nigeria (see above). Nevertheless small-scale BWA private network deployments are occurring in many countries like Mauritania, Egypt and elsewhere. They are however less publicized since they either serve private networks purposes (mining, oil companies for example) or are small ISP deployments.

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