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Boosting Internet Penetration Through Fixed Broadband Access
[October 17, 2013]

Boosting Internet Penetration Through Fixed Broadband Access

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) With growing internet penetration in Nigeria, aided by the increased use of smartphones and other handheld devices to access mobile broadband, Emma Okonji writes on the need to further deepen the process through fixed broadband access Before the advent of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), in 2001, the traditional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were the major providers of internet service in the country.

However, they had challenges in deepening internet penetration, which stood at less than 3 per cent then.

The major challenge was the high cost of international bandwidth, which stood at $4,000 /meg/month; a situation that compelled ISPs to operate more of shared bandwidth service delivery than the dedicated bandwidth service delivery. The implications were that several people were attached to a single bandwidth, which affected their browsing speed, even when they were paying so high to acquire bandwidth capacity.


But with the landing of Main One submarine cable in 2010, and the subsequent landing of Glo 1 submarine cable same year, coupled with the landing of MTN West African Cable System (WACS), the cost of bandwidth dropped from $4,000/meg/month, to about $1,000/meg/month, and that was when GSM service providers shifted from their core tradition of providing voice service to data service provision, using 'Plug and Play' internet modem, which gave Nigerians direct access to the internet.

The new development, as at then, pushed up internet penetration from 3 per cent to over 50 per cent penetration. But even at that, its penetration level could further increase if more Nigerians have access to the internet from their offices and homes, using fixed broadband connectivity.

More Nigerians today have access to mobile broadband internet, through the use of smartphones. Although internet penetration level through the use of mobile broadband has risen high, the penetration would have been higher if more Nigerians have access to fixed broadband that has to do with cable connectivity to homes and offices.

Nigerians are clamouring for up to 70 per cent internet penetration, and they expect the cost of bandwidth to drop as low as $50/meg/month, in order to achieve increase in internet penetration, given the avalanche of broadband capacities that are lying low at the shores of the country from Main One, Glo 1, MTN WACS, and even from the old SAT 3 cable.

The Challenges Although the cost of internet service is gradually reducing, Nigerians expect it to become much lower in such a way that it will be available to all homes and offices and at a highly reduced rate. As at the time internet modems were introduced as channel to easy access to the internet, Nigerians fast adopted them, only to discover later that the connection speed dropped and access to the internet, via the modems became difficult. People's airtime were fast spent, even before they could spend few time browsing the internet and this frustrated many, and they were forced to dump their modems in search of other modems from other service providers, but the experiences turned out to be the same. The challenges, according to expert views, were not in the modems, but in the limited broadband capacities in the hinterlands that were supposed to serve homes and offices. Until submarine cable providers are able to transmit broadband capacities from the sea shores to the hinterlands, through a national backbone infrastructure, the challenges will continue to drag, technology experts said.

The 4G LTE Service Determined to provide easy and increased internet access to all nooks and crannies of the country that will cover all homes and offices, the surviving ISPs migrated from the old third generation (3G technology) to a an entirely new service offerings, through the Long Term Evolution (LTE technology), otherwise known as the 4G technology. They came up with lots of promises that with the new deployment of 4G LTE technology, access to the internet, would not only be cheap, but would also be available to everyone in the country at a very high browsing speed.

Some subscribers who believed in the convincing words of ISPs concerning the 4G LTE technology, admitted that at the first instance when they were introduced to the LTE technology, the speed was superb and the connecting signals were also very strong, such that they could get signals in their devices even when they were some distance away from the 4G LTE box.

But today, the same customers who sang the praises of 4G LTE service providers, have started experiencing weak connections and poor internet signals, which pose some difficulties in accessing the internet as fast as it used to be. Some, who spoke with THISDAY, confirmed that internet services on their mobile devices were no longer as good as before when they newly subscribed to the 4G LTE service.

One of the customers said "Initially when I subscribed to the 4G LTE technology from one of the service providers, I was getting strong signals from any part of my house, even when I am far away from the box, but today that has changed. Before I can get signal, I have to move my mobile device close to the box, and this is frustrating because it means my family has to cluster around the box before we can get access to the internet." Implementing National Broadband Plan At the recent 2013 Nigerian Telecoms Development Lecture (NITDEL) organised by Nigeria Telecoms News in Lagos, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Airtel Nigeria, Mr. Segun Ogunsanya, said the newly approved Nigeria National Broadband Plan (NNBP) from 2013 to 2018, would facilitate broadband expansion in the country and deepen internet penetration, if speedily executed. "If well executed, it could contribute about N190 billion to the country's Gross Domestic Products (GDP) by 2015," Ogunsanya said. According to him, the 6 per cent broadband penetration in the country, could present a challenge and an opportunity for Nigeria. He noted that there could be five-fold increase in broadband penetration by 2017 if major challenges are removed, especially Right of Way (RoW) limitations and shortage of more spectrums.

He therefore called on state governments to make RoW approval easier for operators, stressing that the challenge of getting approval has become a major setback for operators to roll out their services.

Suggesting better ways to deepen internet penetration in the country, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, who also spoke at the forum, said his state was ready to help operators achieve fast approval on RoW, provided that operators display some level of commitment in the area of sincere collaboration among themselves, instead of each operator making the same demand from government. This means that all of them would be involved in destroying the already built roads in the process of laying fibre optic cables for broadband deployment.

Alternative View President of the Association of Telecoms Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Mr. Lanre Ajayi, who spoke with THISDAY on how best to address internet penetration level in the country, said the challenges currently being faced by subscribers, should not be blamed on the service providers, but on the limited bandwidth capacities currently spread across the hinterlands.

According to him, government must address the issue of last-mile and middle-mile connectivity, in order to effectively deepen internet penetration in the country. Ajayi, who supported other experts views on the need for the federal government to build a national backbone infrastructure that will carry broadband capacity traffic from the shores of the country to the hinterlands, said "When that is achieved, the abundant capacities that are currently seated at the country's shores will be transferred to the hinterlands where the demand is." That is the only time that people will feel the impact of all the submarine cables that are currently littered around the shores of Nigeria and that is the only time that broadband capacity will be available to Nigerians at affordable rates and with high speed browsing, he added.

Computer Ownership Ajayi, who also suggested that individual computer ownership among students of tertiary institutions would help deepen internet penetration in the country, called on the federal government to consider donation of personal computers like laptops to all Nigerian students in tertiary institutions.

According to him, Nigeria can afford it, and when that is done, the number of people with access to the computer would increase, which also means that the number of internet users will also increase because the students will need internet access when carrying out academic research with their personal computers.

He advised government to give every tertiary student a computer for free, and that by doing so, government would be empowering every household in the country, because almost every household in Nigeria, has at least a student.

"The entire family will have access to the computer, whenever the student is around the home, and that means the entire family will have access to the internet and utilise its capacity," Ajayi said, adding that such move would turn out to be huge investment for the country, because government will be empowering families through the initiative. There are lots of opportunities on the internet, but unless people are empowered to have access to it via the computer ownership, they will not have such opportunities that come with the internet.

The internet is the biggest library in the world, providing huge resources to only those that have opportunity to access it, and Nigeria must key into the personal computer initiative, in order to empower her citizens and to boost internet penetration in the country, Ajayi said, adding that the roadblock between the internet penetration and Nigerians, is the computer device, since many homes and individuals cannot afford it due to high cost.

He warned that should government deny Nigerian students from personal computer ownership, government would invariably be disconnecting them from economic empowerment and future growth.

In order to further boost internet penetration in the country, government at all levels, the telecoms service providers, and the traditional internet service providers, must come to terms on how best to drive both mobile broadband internet penetration and fixed broadband internet penetration in the country.

Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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