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‘Slow Internet connections across Nigeria negate productivity’



Rufus Andrew is a director at Corning Incorporated, a technology firm with focus on connectivity through fibre connections. Andrew has 30 years in the ICT sector, including telecommunications, information technology and broadcasting, spanning different environments, including engineering, Project Management, Regulatory Affairs, Business Development, among others. He spoke to ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, on how slow Internet connectivity can negatively impact productivity in the country, among other germane industry issues.

Fibre-To-The-Home (FTTH) and Fibre-To-The-Building (FTTB), what does it mean for businesses in Nigeria and globally?
Nigeria is a regional and global powerhouse. The government of Nigeria recognises the urgent need to increase access to, and usage of, Internet and broadband in Nigeria. As part of the government’s overarching national development plan, vision 2020, which outlines the government’s aim to make Nigeria a top 20 global economies by 2020, information and Communications technology, has been given a central role.

Fibre-optic connectivity can be of great advantage to companies in Nigeria who use new technologies such as cloud for apps or data storage. Fibre Internet is much faster than even the highest-speed copper Internet connections; with options available that range from five Mbps to 100 Gbps. Slow Internet connections across Nigeria has a negative impact on productivity. While the wait on slow Internet can seem minor, it adds up significantly over time. Fibre-optic Internet eliminates any of the latency issues users experience on cable Internet, particularly when downloading or uploading video or high-definition content

For end consumers, fibre enables the delivery of entertainment media such as high-definition TV, gaming systems and high-speed Internet. Because of optical fibre solutions, people around the world are able to use email, conduct research, participate in online learning opportunities and teleconference with family and friends. In addition, fibre allows one to telecommute with work colleagues, consult with experts, and watch videos and movies on demand, and more.

What are your recommendations to the government following plans to laying 18 000 km fibre optic cable across the country with a strategic objective of promoting greater awareness about the state’s technology and broadband investments potentials?
Based on our long lasting experience and all our expertise the best practice would be to approach such strategic matter with forward thinking and perspective of the future. That would mean to consider that fibre has to form an integral part of the network deployments in order to deliver the low latency, high speed performance required by business and consumers in the country. The government can think of pursuing a strategy that allows network competition to serve commercially viable areas while the government supports investment in parallel on what it describes as “the most difficult to reach areas”. This strategy will increase competition and investment in full fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure.

Operators complain of high cost of fibre optic leasing in Nigeria due to the lack of getting enough subscribers in a short run that can cover leasing costs. How should operators be approaching this to achieve the economies of scale?
Operators across the region, including Nigeria are currently looking at how they can cut down on the deployment costs and increase their return of investment. A key strategy to this is for operators to take into account a number of factors including the potential demand for fibre in the roll-out market and deployment costs. These choices can be the difference between a successful or failed project. One thing worth mentioning is that operators need to target and prioritise well to ensure increase and faster market penetration.

Operators need to focus on geo-marketing studies of different areas in order to allow them to prioritize the businesses and households that are likely to rapidly switch to FTTH services and that would be willing to undergo the work necessary to install a fibre optic box inside their premises.

What is Corning bringing to the Nigerian market?
At Corning, our growth is fuelled by a commitment to innovation. We succeed through sustained investment in research & development, a unique combination of material and process innovation, and close collaboration with customers to solve tough technology challenges.

With the rapid growth in data volumes across Africa, which require fixed/mobile convergence, our acquisition of 3M CMD’s fibre-to-the-home business and high-bandwidth products will enhance the optical solutions we provide customers, while increasing deployment speed and network capability, among others.

The cost of fibre network build and operation continues to be a challenge for operators in Nigeria. What are the requirements for building fast networks and monetizing the investments?
A few years back it was enough for operators to make a big investment to get the city connected and convince the government to buy capacity in bulk. This worked well as mobile and other networks and service providers were legally bound to acquire their backbone and backhaul networks from fixed incumbent.

However, regardless of who is building the network and who will be using the capacity it brings, it could be a physical and a financial challenge to construct it. Optical fiber has this amazing ability to carry huge amounts of data, but it is also a delicate and fragile filament of glass.

And it has to work in an unforgiving external environment, while reliably transmitting data for decades. In order to do this, it is important to work with cable and connectivity solutions which are specified to the highest international standards such as IEC and Telcordia. For FTTH networks in particular, the cost of installation can easily be twice the cost of the materials.

To minimize that cost Corning has developed hardened pre-connectorised solutions such as OptiTap. It has been highly successful in reducing the cost and increasing the deployment speed in mass FTTH rollouts around the world, particularly where skilled installation labour is in short supply. Faster build means faster revenue, and also enables a first mover advantage where competitive operators are in a race to gain territory. Finally, Corning has developed a range of solutions which enable the investment to be deferred, only installing capacity as it is needed.

Civil infrastructure for telecom in Africa and Nigeria is less developed and the costs can take up a significant portion of the overall network build. What are the key to success factors for operators when building networks?
Corning has been developing and manufacturing more types of fibre for use in submarines, long haul, fibre-to-the-home, local area networks, consumer applications, and in-building networks.

The most common challenge we see in fibre roll out is the time between infrastructure deployment and recognising the return on investment. When good proactive planning has not been done, the rollout is jeopardised because decisions are made based upon poor data. Often we see that plans do not properly consider the network architecture requirements or customer requirements which can hinder the investment.

Much of the time and cost of a last drop deployment revolves around the civil infrastructure of the project. This includes digging a new trench and burying a new duct within it. Where possible, operators should look to reuse existing infrastructure – often there are ducts or routes already in place that can be used for FTTH and in building deployments.

These could be carrying other telecoms cables, power lines, or gas/water/sewerage. Installing within these routes requires careful planning and use of cables and ducts that are small enough to fit through potentially crowded pathways.

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FTTBFTTHRufus Andrew
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