WIRELESS ACCESS: There is little doubt that Africa is experiencing a significant digital gap. While some people in Africa’s main cities have access to a wide range of digital products and services at 5G speeds, others have little or no access.
Bridging the digital divide necessitates a comprehensive approach that takes into account everything from the correct technology to an enabling environment. That was the takeaway from a panel discussion on bridging global and regional digital barriers at the Sixth Sub Sahara Spectrum Management Conference.
Approximately 800 million individuals in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to mobile internet. While a huge number of people (about 270 million) lack the necessary coverage, a far larger amount (520 million) can but do not use the mobile internet. Cost, a lack of skills, age, and geography are only a few of the reasons behind this.
Using a fixed wifi connection is one approach to bridge those gaps (FWA). Where competing technologies like fibre and copper fall short or are uneconomical, it fits many of the criteria for cheap broadband connectivity.
It is possible to give mobile broadband to people up to 20 kilometres distant by placing a high-gain antenna on top of a hospital or other vital community facility, for example. When it comes to delivering broadband access to the region, this kind of coverage can go a long way toward addressing other common difficulties.
“Remote areas and topography, as well as the dispersed nature of some communities and cultural practices like nomadism, have an impact on infrastructure development,” says UCC Acting Executive Director Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo. “Another factor that comes into play in economics. Because many underdeveloped locations have little consumer purchasing power, network providers will be hesitant to enter those areas.”
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Fixed wireless connectivity can assist address several of these challenges by lowering infrastructure costs and increasing the range of each mobile antenna. According to an Omdia (formerly Ovum) analysis titled “Fixed-Wireless Access Drives Broadband Development in Sub-Saharan Africa,” there is a significant opportunity for Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) to bridge the digital divide with fixed wireless access due to its history of low fixed-network penetration.
FWA fits in nicely with some of the other actions that can assist bridge the digital divide, according to Luke Bathopi, Director, Technical Services, Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA).
We can also use mobile penetration, tiny towns, cheaper devices, alternative energy (for powering base stations), and the COVID-19-accelerated economies of scale to solve many of the supply-side issues that contribute to the digital divide,” he argues.
FWA can also provide 4.5G and 5G capabilities to enable a fibre-like experience, particularly in locations where fibre is unfeasible or would take a long time to deploy.
Fixed wireless connectivity can potentially be a more viable option for operators because the return on investment (ROI) is less than three years. For investors, this makes fixed wireless access an economically viable technology.
“The combination of 4G/5G and FWA democratizes broadband connection in Africa and empowers individuals and businesses for a sustainable and inclusive future,” says Samuel Chen, Vice President of Huawei Southern Africa.
On the demand side, Sewankambo points out that reaching a consensus on spectrum and standards will not only make supplying mobile broadband more inexpensive but will also lower the cost of end-devices for customers, increasing uptake and use
“We need to get our priorities straight and start small,” Bathopi adds. “Government services, for example, are a wonderful engine for narrowing the digital divide since they are needed by everyone.”