Bridging the digital divide in Africa needs a holistic approach that encompasses various considerations from right technology to an enabling environment, Huawei has stated.
The submission was made during a panel session at the ‘Sixth Sub Saharan Spectrum Management Conference’ on bridging global and regional digital divides, the tech giant noted.
In a statement made available to Financial Street, it noted that while some people in the continent’s major cities could access a wide array of digital products and services at 5G speed, others have little to no connectivity.
“Across Sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 800 million people are not connected to the mobile Internet. While a large number of people (some 270 million) simply do not have the requisite coverage, a far larger number (520 million) can access the mobile Internet but do not,” Huawei noted, putting forward cost, lack of skills, age and location as the reasons.
It explained that one way to address those issues was by using fixed wireless access, stressing that it met most of the criteria for affordable broadband connectivity where competing technologies such as fibre and copper fell short or were uneconomical.
According to the tech giant, by putting a high-gain antenna on top of a hospital or other important community buildings, for example, it becomes possible to provide mobile broadband to people up to 20km away.
That kind of coverage could go a long way in addressing other prevalent issues when it comes to providing broadband access to the region, it said.
“Remote locations and geography affect infrastructure development, as do the dispersed nature of some populations and cultural practices such as nomadism,” said the Acting Executive Director of Uganda Communications Commission, Irene Sewankambo.
“Economics is another issue that comes into play. Many underserved areas have low consumer purchasing power, meaning that network operators are unlikely to go into those areas,” Sewankambo explained.
Meanwhile, with lower infrastructure costs and high range numbers for every mobile antenna, FWA can help overcome many of those issues, Huawei stated.
It said an Omdia (previously Ovum) report, entitled ‘Fixed-Wireless Access Drives Broadband Development in Sub-Saharan Africa’, found that there was a very large opportunity for sub-Saharan Africa to bridge the digital gap with FWA.
The Director of Technical Services, Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority, Luke Bathopi, pointed out that FWA fits in nicely with some of the other interventions that can help bridge the digital divide.
“We can also leverage mobile penetration, small communities, cheaper devices, alternative energy (for powering base stations), and the acceleration of economies of scale brought about by COVID-19 to overcome many of the supply side causing the digital divide,” he said.
The capabilities of 4.5G and 5G can also be provided by FWA to enable a fibre-like experience, especially in those areas where fibre is impractical or where it would take a long time to deploy, Huawei explained.
It disclosed the Return on Investment as less than three years; hence FWA could also be a more profitable proposition for operators, even as this makes it a commercially feasible technology for investors.
The Vice President for Huawei, Southern Africa region, Samuel Chen, said, “The combination of technologies of 4G/5G and FWA democratises broadband connectivity in Africa and empowers people and businesses for a sustainable and inclusive future.”
From the demand side, Sewankambo further pointed out that achieving consensus on spectrum and standards would not only make providing mobile broadband more affordable but would also make end-devices cheaper for users, driving up their adoption and use.
“We need to get our priorities right and start with small gains. Government services, for example, are needed by everybody and are a great driver for closing the digital gap,” Bathopi added.
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