AfricaCom 2014 is over and as I sit here by the sea watching the sunset over Cape Town Bay, memories of AfricaCom 2002 comes to my mind. In 2002, when I first attended the AfricaCom show, there were three key challenges faced by African operators:
- How can we make voice telephony affordable to more people?
- How can we increase mobile coverage to attract more subscribers?
- How can we provide better voice quality to our existing customers?
Twelve years later, with high mobile penetration, good mobile coverage and reasonably good voice quality, these challenges have been resolved.
Now with all African operators having launched 3G, the utmost question in their mind is not about whether they should launch 4G. It’s about how can they maximize the limited 3G bandwidth they have to provide a better customer experience and better data services. Today in Sub Saharan Africa, the very first experience of Internet for most of the population will be via a wireless device. However, the high cost of international access bandwidth and limited 3G spectrums is forcing operators to look at how they can maximize the use of their existing bandwidth. In the West, the OTT services such as Netflix and YouTube have seen a rapid growth, but in Africa these types of high data consumption services have been low due to high cost of data transmission and bandwidth.
This has led to many wholesale data service providers offering managed wholesale data services to African operators using satellite and sea/land cable networks. Operators are also starting to deploy data optimization, traffic/bandwidth management and customer experience management solutions to maximize their limited bandwidth. As an example of bandwidth cost, some of the Procera customers in West Africa are paying €300 per month per Mbps for international Internet access, compared to a cost of €4 per month per Mbps in European countries. Some of the Procera customers are using the PacketLogic solution to shape their traffic in their international access links saving bandwidth by 20% to 25%, achieving pay back within 4 months on Procera solutions.
More and more undersea cables are also being laid along the East and West cost of Africa increasing bandwidth to Africa. Satellite operators are launching more geo stationary satellites to increase connectivity to land locked African countries. This combined with operators using traffic management solutions such as Procera PacketLogic and data optimization tools, is enabling end users to get better customer experience and better access to mobile data services.
The key message for any telecom vendor operating in the African market is that world solutions are not always applicable to third world challenges. The key focus for African operators for the next two years will remain reducing the cost of bandwidth and increasing better use of the available bandwidth to provide better customer experience to their subscribers. Procera’s solution RAN perspectives, which was short listed for the GSM Best Customer Experience Management award, in combination with the Procera PacketLogic solution, provides an ideal way for African operators to maximize the use of their existing bandwidth and improve customer experience.
AfricaCom this year was larger than ever with a lot of vendors and many more attendees. I have personally seen this show grow over ten fold in size over the last twelve years. The universal availability of mobile telephony in Africa has brought more benefits to the people of this continent. Long may it continue and grow!