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South Africa leads Sub-Saharan Africa’s fibre uptake

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Even though fibre-to-the-home/business is a growing market, it is still nascent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, South Africa represents the highest number of fibre-based connections in the region, reaching almost 800 000 in 2020.

This is according to Bora Varliyagci, CEO of Digitalthings, sharing research insights into the state of digital infrastructure in Sub-Saharan Africa at the FibreCONEXT2020 pre-conference event yesterday.

Held under the theme “Navigating changing environments”, the Digital Council Africa’s FibreCONEXT2020 conference is taking place virtually, and will run until 27 November.

Digitalthings, which is an investment and strategy-focused advisory firm within the ICT sector, partnered with Digital Council Africa to compile the annual market study that investigated the state of key digital infrastructure developments in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Varliyagci said the scope of the study covers the region as well as a deep dive into 10 African nations selected by the council.

Unpacking some of the key findings, the Digitalthings CEO said certain African countries have been aggressively driving fibre adoption.

“In Mauritius, we see over 90% household penetration, as well as some other smaller island nations such as Seychelles issuing a significant fibre reach in their countries.

“There is definitely a market or certain countries driving the fibre reach, but in general, except for one other African country, Kenya, fibre remains a niche technology still, which is deployed to selected high-income areas and not necessarily driving the mass adoption of the technology on the continent.”

Varliyagci pointed to the significant decline in DSL connections on the continent. “It is being replaced by the fibre networks,” he stated. “Fibre has been growing…catching up with the DSL connections in 2020, and probably will be taking over this year’s total DSL connections on the continent, given that DSL connections have been declining constantly.”

Turning to undersea cables, Varliyagci explained there has been continuous growth and investment in regards to this infrastructure.

The undersea cables, he stated, have helped bring international capacity to the shores of the continent, complementing oversupplied markets with additional capacity.

However, what’s interesting to Varliyagci are the announcements of new cable systems such as Google's Equiano cable, which will connect Africa with Europe, and the massive subsea cable 2Africa to connect the African continent and Middle East region.

“First of all, the capacity that will be provided by these cable systems are going to dwarf the capacity that is already there on the continent,” he stated.

“More importantly, looking into the traffic mix between Africa and Europe, at least 35% of the traffic belongs to content providers.

“Now, these content providers as well as other cloud service providers, deploying their own infrastructure through implementation of these submarine cables systems, the self-provision by these large users of content or capacity will impact the demand on other infrastructure providers.”

In terms of satellites, Varliyagci stated they remain a key means of connectivity for rural Africa as well as central countries that don’t have shores for getting the benefits of submarine cables.

“Satellite remains a main technology that is being utilised. There have been lots of developments from a technology point of view on satellite. With the emergence of high-throughput satellites, today, we are able to deliver up to 10 gigabits per second per satellite capacity, which is expected to grow to 60 gigabits per second by 2025.

“The limited reach of the fibre networks or other broadband infrastructure to deeper Africa makes it necessary for satellite operators to continue their operations and expand in their reach.”

* ITWeb is the media partner of Digital Council Africa’s FibreCONEXT2020 conference.

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