Twenty African countries have introduced broadband and more set to follow, says new report

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Two reports were released last week that chart the rapid changes taking place in African ICT markets over the last year. The first looks at the rise of broadband access which has become increasingly available in Africa for the first time ever. The second report analyses the mobile handset market in one of the continent's largest markets, Nigeria and provides some useful pointers as to how that market will develop.

Between 2001 when the first broadband access was rolled out and the present day, a wide range of both wireline and wireless broadband technologies have been deployed across Africa. The first were deployed from around 2001, and the pace has picked up from 2003 onwards. Balancing Act conducted a survey of 100 selected operators which have made broadband deployments to date. The technologies which have been deployed have changed over time; the most recent trend has seen the implementations of WiMAX 802.16 standard networks which can deliver broadband over a range of up to as far as 75-km. African broadband markets is published by Balancing Act on CD-ROM and looks at the development of all forms of broadband in Africa and is based on a survey of 100 companies across the continent.

At least 20 incumbent fixed-line operators had deployed ADSL by September 2005, with a few including Telkom SA and Telecom Egypt offering a wider range of wireless solutions (WiFi, FWA, CDMA2000, WiMAX). In these markets where incumbents have deployed ADSL, ISPs typically resell the broadband services of the incumbent. In a few cases however, the local loop has been unbundled and ISPs have installed DSLAM equipment at local exchanges enabling them to offer their own independent DSL networks.

The particular technologies chosen by operators reflect the regulatory factors, unique demand requirements relating to coverage, competition and pricing, and quality of service, within each given market. From the consumer perspective, the up-front costs of terminal equipment is also very important, with costs ranging from relatively inexpensive WiFi equipment to more expensive C-band antenna.

The report provides a detailed country breakdown but uptake of broadband is accelerating in the most developed Internet markets. In terms of uptake of broadband, the survey indicates that there are four tiers, ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of subscribers to those countries that countries that have not yet implemented.

The report looks at broadband delivered through a variety of different technologies including DSL, wireless and mobile wireless. It identifies that some key strategic decisions face mobile operators that make upgrades that offer this high-capacity data option.

The report looks at: the business issues affecting the growth of broadband in Africa including: potential markets; costs in the value-chain; likely uses for broadband; the development of digital broadcasting content; and regulatory issues.

Broadband is driving broader changes in the market.In many cases ISPs are migrating up the value chain to become infrastructure providers, and in what are highly competitive internet markets, broadband has become the key differentiator between competing ISPs. The 'classic' broadband deployments of incumbent fixed-line operators promote a more rigid market structure; 'unorthodox' deployments by ISPs and others tend to promote a more organic market structure with numerous infrastructure providers using a mix of technologies.

By far the most prolific implementations of broadband have been wireless: two-way Ku-band broadband VSAT offered by satellite service providers, localised WiFi hotspot offerings typically by ISPs, and broadband FWA by ISPs, alternative fixed-line operators and also incumbents. VSAT is ubiquitous, every square inch of Africa is covered by satellite footprints capable of delivering Ku-band services, the only restrictions to its use being licensing regimes in different countries. WiFi in the often licence-free ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands are also prolific as to be too numerous to account for individual providers or hotspots in this continental survey, and again are restricted only by the licensing regime for these frequencies. Otherwise, the third most prolific broadband implementation is of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), most commonly deployed in the 3.5 GHz band.

The report contains a survey table detailing over 100 deployments providing: operator by country, a breakdown of type of deployment; geographic areas of deployment; make of technology; frequency used for wireless and mobile deployments; and dates of deployments.