June 10, 2009

Revisiting forest of antennas — Nigeria Your Skyline! – Part (11)

By  Chris Uwaje,  with contribution from Roland Alden
“Optic Fiber Vs Wireless” Chris Uwaje _ with contribution from Roland Alden.“However, in the developing economies where network construction is viewed in context as an investment in the economy and driver of economic growth, this view is 180′ out of synch.

telecom mast

telecom mast

Network construction in these environments should be optimized to enable the maximum amount of opportunity along and adjacent the network route. For example, in the “cost” view model of network construction the need for reliable electricity at a regeneration point is viewed as a negative input that must be compensated for by either 1) costly construction or by 2) fancy electronics that allow the “powerless” region to be traversed without stopping.

In the “development model” the need to provide an oasis of electricity and infrastructure along the network route is also an opportunity to enable an economic environment that will create network customers over the long term. Furthermore, this investment in a “micro economy” lowers the cost of providing service to possibly larger economies elsewhere on the network.
This view of network construction is not common in telecom but is the norm for other networks, such as roads and waterworks.

In many large countries it is not at all uncommon to travel on a long, nearly deserted highway only to find gas stations at amazingly regular intervals which provide the fuel that makes the highway into an economically useful resource. No one builds special purpose vehicles equipped with gigantic fuel tanks that make such gas stations unnecessary.

Typically a small economy may grow up around such a gas station; at a minimum one large enough to sustain the gas station itself but typically one which might further leverage the investment such as mechanized farms, irrigation pumps, a small airport and perhaps a regional healthcare facility. The value of the gas station to the adjacent economies that it nourishes can easily be doubled simply by locating it at the intersection of two highways instead of alongside only one.

Using this example it is easy to see that the “topology” of human trade routes and living patterns guides so much “infrastructure” development. Telecom development follows these patterns to the degree that they must but there are two externalities that have significantly distorted the evolution of telecom. First, there is regulation.

The development of cities, settled areas, roads and trade routes were largely subject to the kind of narrowly focused grants of monopoly seen in telecom. Secondly, the use of technology to attempt to “by pass” small and large blocks of humanity in order to communicate across, over, around and through them is somewhat unique to telecom.

The combination of wireless technology and Africa is often painted as a logically synergistic combination. Large areas that have historically been poorly served by dysfunction monopoly PTTs, poverty that argues for a cheap and “quick fix” solution.

I often hear arguments to the effect that “since Africa is different” …a different approach logically follows. As long as the first postulate goes unchallenged the second assertion gets an intellectual free ride that it does not deserve.

In making the case for fiber in Africa I’d like to argue that Africa is *not* different and that the Africa we see today proves that, if we’d only see it with open eyes.

It would be a tragedy to not apply lessons from other parts of the world which could be used to make Africa telecom_rich simply because of a mistaken notion that somehow Africa is “different” and has to underwrite a costly discovery of its own rules. “