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Backhaul blog

A blueprint for connectivity in Africa

A blueprint for connectivity in Africa
Lionel Chmilewsky, CEO, addressing CBNL team in Nigeria

A blueprint for connectivity in Africa

Recently, I was fortunate enough to visit some of our customers and staff in West Africa. While these trips are always important, this one held particular significance for our business. CBNL started working in Africa as far back as 2006, initially with MTN in South Africa. The continent has been of paramount importance to our business ever since.

During my visit, I caught up with some of our customers based in Nigeria, namely Vodacom Business Nigeria, MTN Nigeria and Airtel Nigeria. I took the opportunity to hear their thoughts on how business in the region is shaping up, where they see their businesses growing in the next twelve months and taking the time to learn about the latest innovations in their product lines.

I also shared an update on CBNL’s plans in Africa and our latest R&D that will continue to extend our portfolio through 2019 and beyond. Of course, my main focus was on how we can better service them: our customer base.

CBNL has been a long-term player in Africa, developing wireless solutions to cater for the demand in data growth, which has happened exponentially in recent years. But our work is not over and there is much more to do. We continue to explore ways of penetrating the African market more deeply, building on our existing footprint and developing new and innovative products for our customers in this part of the world.

It has been well documented that there is a digital divide between the different nations of the world. The United Nations’ most recent exploration of the state of global broadband suggests we face a “digital chasm” in the disparity of connectivity between wealthy and poorer nations, many of which are in Africa.

It is so often said that Africa faces a unique set of challenges that get in the way of it ever having internet access for all. Poor infrastructure, vast distances and power shortages are just some of these, along with low average revenues per user (ARPU), which can make infrastructure investment unviable.

But other continents face similar difficulties – such as remote parts of Asia, for example. This is where cost-effective, easily deployable approaches with low operating costs and upfront CAPEX, such as Point-to-Multipoint (PMP) communications, can work well. Indeed, our very own PMP networks and turnkey services now support 25 customers across 17 African countries and act as key infrastructure for the region’s leading operators.

Our experience in Africa is vast. It includes deploying high-capacity fixed wireless networks using high frequency bands such as 26GHz for businesses in Angola with Unitel. Additionally, working with Expresso telecoms Group, we have built a major wireless network that distributes high-capacity broadband from the ACE (Africa Coast to Europe) submarine fibre system to key urban and business regions in Guinea. Consequently, we know what it takes to deploy Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services in mmWave across Africa, and we believe we have the blueprint for African operators looking to unlock the power of mmWave for the next iteration of backhaul, enterprise access, residential broadband, 5G, and the smart city applications that come with it.

With the UN predicting that by 2050 urban areas will house 68 per cent of the global population, municipalities will need to be creative in their approach to building liveable and sustainable environments. Connectivity is a key aspect of this. And nowhere is this situation more apparent than in Africa, where the population is expected to double by 2050, reaching 2.5 billion people, with the “megacity” of Lagos predicted to double in its current size to be home to 42 million inhabitants.

This kind of population growth, paired with the shift in our way of living, means smarter cities will soon be paramount. The good news is, from a technical standpoint, companies like CBNL can support smart city applications on the same infrastructure as the existing mobile backhaul. This lowers the barrier to entry for operators who want to be partners to municipalities because there is no longer an enormous cost assoctiated with adding these applications. We’ve deployed exactly this kind of solution in Poland, where a local city authority adopted an agile PMP mmWave solution to allow for more efficient orchestration of its network resources and greater flexibility to deliver a range of services over a single, common physical network.

Given our current position working alongside many operators in Africa to leverage the power of mmWave, there is every reason to believe that this kind of network can be emulated in cities like Lagos in the near future.

Local presence is key to us in Africa as having a foot on the ground, we believe, shines through in the levels of service and support we can provide. Like with any other continent, there is no “one size fits all” approach that will work in this market, which is why we have dedicated CBNL offices in Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi. From these hub locations we provide training locally and develop partnerships with regional value-added resellers. As a result, we offer technical support, maintenance, installation and other services, all in the local timezone and with a full understanding of local conditions. This support is essential.

In Lagos, at our Centre of Excellence, and from our hub office in Johannesburg, we frequently help operators apply best practice to maximise the profitability of their own network. Why? Because often vendors are focused on technical performance, but the purpose of a network is both to provide a service to customers and a financial return to its owners. Once a good service is secured, then operators can reap the financial benefits.

In summary, and at the risk of stating the obvious, the African continent is vast. There is a wealth of growth potential for our business that is yet to be explored. With the advent of smart cities and the proliferation of 5G, CBNL hopes to be at the forefront by helping our African customers to innovate and take advantage of these technological changes. We have the blueprint to do it, so if you need our help just get in touch or come and see us at AfricaCom in November.

Lionel Chmilewsky
Chief Executive Officer
CBNL

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