Zimbabwe and Botsawana have signed the East African Submarine System (Eassy), taking the total number of signatories to nine our of 23 countries that originally agreed to implement the project in 2003. ITWeb reports that Mozambique, Namibia, Somalia, Zambia and Malawi, all of which were expected to sign up, did not do so. The current signatories include South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Lesotho, Madagascar and Malawi, which signed the protocol in late August. There is a deadline of 30 November to sign the protocol.
Rickety minibus taxis weave between corrugated iron shacks, dodging street hawkers and the odd scrawny child with trousers gaping at the knee.
Alexandra is one of South Africa’s roughest townships, and yet you can switch on your laptop there, slide in a data card and access your e-mail in seconds using the world’s most advanced commercial wireless technology.
About a decade after mobile phones started to spread across the poorest continent, trailing Europe by several years, wireless technology in major cities is catching up with that in the West.
South African mobile operators Vodacom and MTN in March launched HSDPA (high-speed downlink packet access), wireless broadband technology that is five times faster than the first third-generation (3G) networks. With top download speeds of more than 1.5 megabits per second, the equivalent of a fast broadband connection at home, HSDPA is known as 3.5G.
The March launch came barely days after T-Mobile launched commercial HSDPA networks in Germany, Britain and the Netherlands and before customers in Finland, France and Italy could access the new services.
“African operators are definitely catching up, or at least following closely behind Europe,” said Devine Kofiloto, principal analyst at Informa telecoms and media research group. “Whether there is a business case (for 3 or 3.5G) is a different question.”
In Europe, 3G was initially promoted for video calls, mobile video and music downloads. When 3G and 3.5G first launched in South Africa skeptics noted that downloading the latest Madonna track was probably not the top priority for millions of Africans who had yet to make their first phone call.
“African markets are essentially voice-centric. What could low-end users possibly use 3G technology to do?” said Kofiloto.
3G and 3.5G coverage rarely extends beyond upmarket urban areas–Alexandra is close to Sandton, Johannesburg’s main business district. But that could be about to change.
Namibia’s MTC said last week it would launch HSDPA before the end of the year. Vodacom, joint owned by Vodafone and fixed-line operator Telkom, is building a 3.5G network in Tanzania and Econet aims to launch the service in Zimbabwe.
Basic mobile phone use has exploded in Africa and many Africans would rather spend scarce spare cash on phone service than on new shoes.
Proponents of the new technology argue demand for high-speed Internet access via 3.5G data cards or phones could be huge among small businesses in countries where fixed-line infrastructure is patchy and unreliable.
3G and 3.5G services will generate more than one quarter of mobile revenues within four years, according to market research group Strategy Analytics.
“There is a clear case for 3G and HSDPA in Africa because the fixed line infrastructure is simply not there,” said David Pringle, spokesman for lobby group GSM Association.
“The seeds are being sown in the urban areas, but when prices come down this will be viable for ordinary people.”
The largest mobile phone network operator in Namibia, Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTC) has announced plans to launch a 3G network. The company, which is 34% owned by Portugal Telecom, said that German engineering and mobile network equipment group Siemens will build the network.
According to the German vendor, it will supply and install a brand new 3G HSDPA network. The installation of such a state-of-the-art system will , Siemens said, not only enable MTC to better fend off the coming threat from a soon to be launched competing mobile operator, but will be one of the first such networks in sub-Saharan Africa.
The new rival to MTC, Powercom which is backed by local utility player NamPower and Norwegian group Telecom Management Partners, has said that it too will build a 3G network, though it has yet to say when this may happen.
Local investment analysts have yet to be convinced that installing such high-powered networks in relatively poor countries makes economic sense. 3G networks have yet to prove themselves profitable in most advanced economies, never mind in some of the world’s poorest countries. On the other hand, supporters of 3G in Africa argue that the relatively poor state of the fixed line networks there make mobile broadband services much more attractive to the population.
Vodacom in South Africa has already launched 3G services as has Mauritius. Meanwhile next generation mobile networks are being constructed in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Namibia’s main mobile phone operator, Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTC), 34-percent owned by Portugal Telecom, plans to launch third generation services and Siemens will build the network.
Siemens said in a statement late on Monday it had agreed to supply and install a new 3G HSDPA network, which connects customers to high-speed broadband services via their mobile phones.
The statement said the new technology — one of the first 3G networks in sub-Saharan Africa — would give MTC an edge as it girds for the launch of a second mobile operator, Powercom, planned for later this year.
“The installation of a 3G HSDPA network will give MTC a significant technology advantage over its new competitor,” said Siemens, adding it expected the network to be up and running by the end of the year.
MTC’s new rival Powercom is owned by Norway’s Telecom Management Partners, the Namibian energy utility NamPower and several others. It has said it plans to build 3G technology but has yet to announce concrete plans.
Industry analysts and companies are divided over whether 3G technology — which have had mixed success in the West — makes good business sense for the world’s poorest continent, where only a tiny proportion of users will be able to afford the services.
South Africa’s Vodacom, owned by Vodafone and Telkom, and MTN have already launched 3G services. Mauritius already has 3G services and networks are being built in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.