HIGH IN FIBER

Tanzania 2015 | TELECOMS & IT | FOCUS: THE NATIONAL ICT BROADBAND BACKBONE (NICTBB)

Technological literacy is seen as underpinning national development, and the NICTBB project is setting the pace for the future.

While mobile usage in Tanzania has exploded over the past decade, the total number of internet users, and hence internet penetration, has remained relatively low. Roughly nine million out of a total population of 45 million were estimated to be regular internet users in 2014, compared to 28 million mobile phone users. With access to the internet and internet literacy seen as an integral driver of national development, the government initiated the National ICT Broadband Backbone (NICTBB) project to expedite sector growth.

The NICTBB is a massive infrastructure network spanning the entire country, providing high capacity long-distance transmission services to licensed fixed and mobile network operators, internet service providers, and other value added network service providers. Managed and operated by the Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL), the NICTBB also brings access to EASSY and SEACOM, two international underwater fiber optics cables connected to Dar es Salaam, to the rest of the country.

To cover the country, the physical layout is divided into three rings: the Northern Ring, Southern Ring, and Western Ring. In total, over 10,000 kilometers of fiber optic cables have been laid, connecting all of Tanzania's major urban centers and providing access points to eventually reach much of rural Tanzania.

With nine connection points along the borders of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, and Zambia, the NICTBB is also a key project in fulfilling the government's long term dream of transforming Tanzania into a regional ICT hub. Beyond Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, Kenya is the only other landing point for submarine fiber optics cables in the region, thus making the NICTBB network a vital link for introducing fiber optics to Tanzania's landlocked neighbors.

In September of 2013, the Liquid Telecom Group signed a partnership with the NICTBB to connect Tanzania to its East Africa Fiber Ring. In September of this year, Liquid's recently purchased Kenya Data Networks (KDN) extended its own fiber network into Tanzania by completing a 120-kilometer fiber link from Nairobi to the Kenyan-Tanzanian border city of Namanga. Via the existing backbone, KDN became the first operator to link the capital cities of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda on a single fiber network. Among other tangible benefits, the new land connection between Dar es Salaam and Mombasa—the two cities connected to EASSY and SEACOM—ensures that the fiber network will not be disrupted in the event of any damage to the submarine cables.

Local ISPs are now taking advantage of these underwater fiber optics cables to establish metro fiber networks in Dar es Salaam. The local Tanzanian ISP Raha has already laid underground metro fiber cables throughout most of the city, offering access to businesses and homes. While the close proximity to the underwater cables and Dar es Salaam's status as the economic hub of the country make such metro fiber investments feasible, Tanzania's other cities such as Arusha in the north or the capital of Dodoma are lagging far behind in terms of metro fiber connectivity.

Before SEACOM connected to Dar es Salaam in 2009, the average price of high-speed internet was TZS3,000 per megabyte. With access to international fiber optic cables, the figure decreased to about a third of pre-cable prices. The government's backbone investment has allowed much smaller companies to bring much more affordable and faster internet access to the country, and the early results are promising. Although still nowhere close to the mobile phone penetration rates, the total number of internet users has already grown by an additional 2 million Tanzanian since the end of 2012. Access to the internet and internet literacy has strategically been designated as a key driver of Tanzania's development, and with the completion of the NICTBB, the stage is set for private and public investments to deliver much needed ICT services throughout the country and establish itself as a hub for the region.