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Thursday, 14 June 2012

West Africa's wait for high-speed broadband is almost over!

A cable linking west Africa to Europe will not only make it less frustrating to use the internet but could help achieve millennium development goals on education, health and the environment. Speed and connectivity has been a severe frustration experienced by many in west Africa who have used the internet for anything heavier on bandwidth than browsing simple text-based websites. Connectivity in the region suffers from high latency, high cost and narrow bandwidth. But all this is set to change in December when the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) broadband cable comes online.

The France Telecom-led $700m system will use high-speed fibre optic technology to link Europe with 18 countries along the west coast of Africa, as well as Mali and Niger. The submarine cable has an initial 1.92 terabits per second (Tb/s) capacity, which can be upgraded to 5.12Tb/s. To put this simply, 5.12Tb/s bandwidth would allow approximately 20m ordinary videos (and up to 5m HD videos) to be streamed simultaneously, without any significant buffering. Thanks to its ability to enable combined provision of voice, data and video at the same time, it is hoped that broadband will assist developing countries in areas such as education, health and governance. Broadband has also been linked to economic growth. A report from the World Bank claims that a 10% increase in broadband penetration in developing countries contributed 1.38% to economic growth over the study period,

There is still a long way to go before the potential of better connectivity can be fully realised in west Africa. Data indicates that internet-user penetration in sub-Saharan Africa was 10.6% in 2010, well behind the then global average of about 30%. Much work has to be done in terms of public policy and improving affordability and penetration among the most disadvantaged. However, once ACE is switched on the information age will have truly arrived in west Africa and it willl have the potential to deliver great changes to the region.

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