Ahead of AfricaCom 2018, Cambridge Broadband Networks Limited (CBNL) believes the African continent is ripe for disruption by 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) connectivity. Quick to deploy and more cost effective than replacing copper cable with fibre, point-to-multipoint FWA using millimetre wave frequencies could have an immediate and positive impact in Africa. CBNL believes it could be the transformational technology enabling the rollout of high-speed broadband for the whole continent, as well as a significant new revenue opportunity for operators. FWA is the technology that could finally bring high-speed broadband to homes across Africa.
Today, over 97% of residential fixed broadband in Africa is delivered on expensive, ageing copper infrastructure, according to research by broadband market intelligence firm, Point Topic.
Copper cabling is as expensive to install and maintain as fibre, but can offer only a fraction of the bandwidth. For this reason, it is widely regarded as an obsolete technology. And while fibre can offer ultra-high speeds, it is expensive and time-consuming to install. For markets with low average revenue per user (ARPU) and/or low rates of fixed broadband usage, it is therefore hard to make a viable business case for an FTTx network once financing costs are considered.
Step forward, FWA. FWA solutions deployed in the mmWave bands are capable of delivering fibre-like speeds at a fraction of the cost, vastly increasing the number of markets that can be served profitably. The expectation is that the first 5G commercial networks will be fixed wireless networks using the mmWave spectrum bands, with Vodacom set to be among the first to deploy mmWave FWA networks in the region. Indeed, elsewhere in the world, commercial 5G FWA is already in operation and delivering residential broadband speeds of 100s of Mbps.
There is a huge opportunity for operators to invest in 5G FWA in Africa and provide the continent with the broadband connectivity it needs.
Dr John Naylon, CTO, CBNL said: “Fixed broadband is a $5.7B annual market across Africa, growing at around 10% per annum currently. With a mmWave FWA solution it’s possible to get around the long-standing problem of cost which is prohibitive to deploying fibre in large areas. Instead, we can install a base station and a set of remote terminals and cover areas with very high-speed broadband quickly and inexpensively. Africa is well placed to leapfrog intermediate technologies and move to cutting edge 5G FWA.”
With the greater availability of higher band spectrum and continual advancements in product performance, FWA will very quickly come to be a core part of operators’ portfolios. The paradigm shift from slow, expensive copper connectivity to lightning-fast wireless represents an incredible opportunity for nimble operators to take market share from incumbents.
Moreover, there is potential for the overall market to grow enormously, perhaps even by an order of magnitude to over $50B annually if the rate of fixed broadband subscriptions across the continent reached the global average. For operators faced with saturation in mobile, this represents the next great wave of revenue growth.
CBNL has deployed mmWave networks for 25 telecommunications service providers in Africa. The company’s state-of-the art backhaul and fixed wireless access solutions are at the heart of more than 30 networks in 17 African countries and provide high speed broadband services to both residential and enterprise customers.