FIBER UP

Ghana 2016 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: ALCATEL FIBER-OPTIC PROGRAM

One of the earliest adopters of the internet is attempting to give its now insufficient network a boost via an extensive fiber backbone.

Ghana was one of the earliest adopters of the internet on the continent, and one of the first countries to connect to the SAT3 international fiber cable back in 2002. The government's approach focused on establishing a network and promoting government as an innovator and facilitator. But by 2011, this ambition had yet to translate into a substantial increase in access for the wider population, with internet penetration at 9.6% of the population.

The National Information Technology Agency (NITA) was established in 2008, as the governing body for supporting a national ICT development strategy. It was tasked with using internet-enabled technology to transform government administration, information dissemination, and service delivery.

In 2012 it was announced that Alcatel-Lucent and NITA would be partnering to dramatically expand Ghana's IT infrastructure. Alcatel-Lucent would design and implement a 775km fiber-optic backbone to provide high-speed data links between central government and more remote locations. The project was the result of collaboration between the government of Ghana, the Danish International Development Agency, and Alcatel-Lucent at a cost of $38 million.

The project, the “Eastern corridor rural fibre-optic backbone,” was commissioned to support the e-Ghana initiative to develop local IT services and improve efficiency of government services, expanding the fiber-optic infrastructure.

The network would link Ghana's north, south, and international submarine gateways via one corridor. The project went live in May 2015, stretching from the Volta regional capital of Ho and terminating at Bakwu in the Upper East region, bringing access to major towns such as Bimbila, Gushiegu, Jasikan, Kpando, Nkwanta, and Yendi and reportedly brought access to high-speed internet broadband to 120 communities along the Eastern corridor.

At the opening, President Mahama explained that the infrastructure would serve as a major boost to the government's e-governance agenda. He said public institutions in the 20 districts spanned by the project will have direct access to high-speed broadband, providing a solid foundation for government services such as e-health and e-education.

Access to data is a key platform for developing sustainable growth and development and is a useful tool in developing the economy away from hubs such as Accra and Takoradi. For the consumers themselves, the corridor is expected to improve call quality and call congestion, and generally provide further opportunities for entrepreneurial development.

Speaking at a press briefing after the project's official opening, William Tevie, Director General of NITA said: “The new eastern corridor optical backbone network will offer a great number of direct socio-economic benefits for the communities within the catchment areas of this project. It will, for example, attract businesses, offer teaching and learning opportunities as well as telemedicine and new health services.”
Although the backbone represents a great leap forward for the regional hubs along the eastern corridor, satellite-based connectivity remains a very useful tool in the meantime. Satellites have proved to be the most effective method of rapid deployment of high-speed links in the absence of high-speed cable infrastructure. More than that, there are still areas of the country that rely on satellites to provide telephone services for rural communities where electricity is not available.

Ken Ansah of K-Net explained to TBY, “We have sites scattered all across the country, with some in the northern and western regions, where people normally would not have voice or internet connectivity. We use satellite technology to provide these services to schools, colleges, and hospitals, where they otherwise would not be available.” During the Ebola outbreak, such provisions were used by medical centers to report and track the virus through West Africa, as satellite coverage covers the whole region.

Various investments in ICT infrastructure by existing ISPs and telecommunications companies are also helping to improve communication service delivery in the country. There are six competing mobile operators currently in the market, with regional heavyweights such as MTN, Vodafone, Airtel, and Tigo. With the voice market largely saturated, pressure is on to improve the operators' mobile broadband services.

All of these factors should combine to increase service delivery across the country, providing a stable platform for development.