It may be five or more years into the future, but the prospect of next-generation, ultra-fast 4G services has piqued the interest of experts and operators, with WiMax still looking good as a long-term winner in Africa.
Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMax are the two horses in the in 4G race, with many experts believing that LTE will make it to the finishing post. However, a provider of WiMax and wireless broadband network solutions, Alvarion, says LTE doesn't have the ecosystem that WiMax does. And, for emerging markets – and Africa particularly – WiMax is the leading solution.
The African market offers high growth potential for WiMax and wireless broadband networks in a wide range of scenarios for different business cases and sizes of operations, says Rick Rogers, director of Alvarion. Economic growth in the region is being fuelled by extensive financial investment by various organisations, such as the IMF and World Bank, which is creating an environment for private business.
"Since communications are essential for any business to succeed, the need for communications is serving as a catalyst for the demand for broadband and voice connectivity," he says.
This economic growth is also fuelling consumer demand for connectivity as populations across Africa seek to catch up with trends in developed countries. In this atmosphere of growth and demand for communications, the lack of developed cable infrastructures is forcing the search for the best alternative. Trends show that operators are choosing to use wireless broadband rather than satellite connectivity for cellular backhaul, and Africa is one of the most promising regions in the world for WiMax.
Rogers says that in just the last 12 months, the region more than tripled in revenue shipments and is on target to account for more than 10 percent of the global WiMax market.
This can be explained by a variety of reasons, he says. "Firstly, satellite data connectivity is extremely expensive. Also, latency issues associated with the communications of satellite networks mean that they are often unsuitable for a mix of services such as voice, video and data."
Regulators across Africa understand the need for a wireless broadband infrastructure that can provide readily-available broadband connectivity to their populations. Consequently, they are actively working to establish the necessary spectrum allocations, in order to facilitate the introduction of mobile WiMax networks.
"By the end of 2006 there were 62 WiMax licences awarded in Africa, and new allocations took place during 2007 as well," says Rogers. "Approximately 92% of the deployments in the region are using the 3.4-3.6GHz spectrum, with the remaining in lower bands such as 2.5 GHz."
The key challenge is to rapidly meet the demand for broadband in the region, as more people and governments realise that a key catalyst to bridging the digital divide is the existence of readily available primary broadband connectivity.
WiMax is the obvious choice, says Rogers, because it offers a very cost-effective solution with fast deployment cycles, thereby facilitating a super-fast response to the needs of operators in the different countries across the continent.
In addition, he says, WiMax will bring lower costs for both operators and end users, allowing new entrants to construct and build attractive business models to address both the residential and business segments.
"Affordability, availability, mobility, and ease of use support the adoption of WiMax," says Rogers. "This, in turn, will increase broadband penetration in the region, and possibly more Internet service providers will emerge from current large mobile operators.
"WiMax is a low-risk, attractive opportunity, especially in emerging markets like Africa which lacks a wired infrastructure and telecom services. With a quick install time and suitability for fixed and nomadic/mobile deployments, it offers a fast and cost-effective solution for broadband connectivity in Africa."