Kathy Gibson reports – The deployment and adoption of broadband is critical to economic and social development.

This is the word from Mathhew Reed, chief analyst: service provider at Omdia, who points to the World Bank’s estimate that a 10 percentage point increase in broadband penetration translates to a 1,2% rise in GDP growth for developed countries and 1,4% in undeveloped countries.

Presenting the finding of the latest Africa Broadband Outlook, Reed explains that broadband connectivity contributes to improved education, healthcare and government services. Indeed, for these reasons, universal connectivity by 2030 is one of the key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Africa.

Two-thirds of the global population is now online – which means that one-third remain unconnected. “And, although the number of connected people is growing, the trends show the goal of universal connectivity is slipping out of reach,” Reed says.

A key finding from the Africa Broadbank Outlook is the projected growth of fixed broadband connections from 1,5-billion today to 1,8-billion by 2028. Fibre is already the biggest technology for fixed broadband and will account for 77% of global connections by 2028.

Africa is seeing strong growth in broadband: at 14% it is the second-fastest in the world and will increase from 36-million connections last year to 56-million over the next five years.

Around the world, operators are upgrading their fibre networks to offer high-speed services. The strongest growth area is expected to be in the 1G category, accounting for almost one-third of networks by 2026.

Africa, despite its healthy broadband subscription growth rate, still faces many challenges that are holding it back, Reed says.

Among the biggest is the shortfall in fibre infrastructure, which needs to be addressed.

Omdia’s Fibre Development Index (FDI) shows that the performance of African countries is seeing some improvement, but they still lag the rest of the world.

There are 93 countries in the index, 19 of them from Africa. The highest-ranked African country, South Africa, sets right down in in 64th place, with Mauritius occupying the 66th spot.

Fibre connectivity is rising, though: while fibre connections account for 13% of fixed broadband subscriptions today, Omdia forecasts that this will rise to 30% by 2028.

And some African operators deploying the latest fibre technology, like Vumatel becoming the first in Africa to deploy 50-GPON.

“Generally, broadband penetration corresponds with higher income levels,” Reed points out, explaining that the African countries with a broadband penetration of more than 20% are those with the biggest GDPs.

Some countries are bucking this trend, though, with some lower-income countries increasing their fibre deployment.

When it comes to rolling our broadband, policy-making is important, Reed adds. “Governments play a key role in broadband development, and there is a lot of action being taken.”

Last year, the Broadband Africa Vision 2030 was launched, setting three targets:

* That all African countries should have national broadband plan by 2023;

* That fixed broadband penetration should be 20% by 2030; and

* That five African countries should be in the top 50 of the FDI by 2030.

Reed says there has been some progress so far:

* 27 countries have the equivalent of a national broadband strategy;

* Fixed broadband penetration was 12%, and is expected to reach 16% by the end of 2028; but

* There are currently no African countries in top 50 of the FDI.

“So there are still a few years to go, but the continent is still some way off meeting those targets,” Reed says.

To speed broadband adoption, Omdia makes several recommendations.

Governments are urged to develop national broadbabd plans and continually refine; help to reduce cost and complexity by removing unnecessary restrictions; put in place active policies towards developing pre-development policies, like specifying fibre be installed in new buildings; and use universal access funds to support underserved areas.

“Affordability is a big issue and there are policies that can be adopted to put access in the reach of low income users,” Reed says.

For service providers, although it’s expensive to roll out new networks, Reed says they will be positioning themselves to be more competitive; which newer technologies are also more cost-effective to operate. “Operators a have a central role to play in the ICT ecosystem. They can and should use that to advance the wider digital transformation of the economies they operate in.”