By Eckart Zollner, Head of Business Development, The Jasco Group
Today, connectivity is central to digital technology so addressing the challenges within this market that hinder the growth and adoption of connectivity is vital. A well-developed market from the perspective of participation in the global Internet economy is essential in bridging the digital divide, which in turn requires effective carrier communities that deliver the infrastructure, networks and supporting foundations for successful digital connectivity.
A massive challenge in developing markets – and Africa in particular – is the so-called digital divide; low Internet penetration, where more than 60% of the population on average does not participate in the digital economy. The major reason for this is affordability, as the cost of connectivity within the developing market is exceptionally high, particularly in comparison to the average earnings of the population.
Typically, people are able to spend around five percent of their disposable income on Internet services. However, in Africa people would need to spend upward of 60% of their income on broadband services – simply not affordable. In fact, the cost of access to broadband in the African market is up to 300 times greater per megabyte than in developed markets, significantly hindering adoption and stifling access to other technologies.
To increase Internet penetration and participation in the digital economy, this significant barrier to entry dealt with and costs aligned with a level affordable to a larger proportion of the population.
There are three prevalent catalysts to achieving this lowering of prices, namely open markets, multiple tiered points of interconnect, and resilient networks. The regulatory environment is pivotal across all sectors, including transport networks, backhaul, global interconnects and more; and openness ensures a level ‘playing field’ for infrastructure and service providers.
Furthermore, in an open market, there is the all-important factor of competition, which in turn leads to ongoing innovation towards greater efficiency, new services and better value for money. Competition means that there are multiple providers, so organisations need to focus on quality and on improving efficiencies, which helps to decrease prices and ensure better customer service across the board.
In addition, the actual infrastructure is important. As the Internet is a global economy, there must be multiple interconnects across networks on a national, regional and global level to deliver the best and shortest route with the lowest latency possible. This is essential in order to ensure improved service, driving increased customer adoption and therefore assisting to reduce prices with greater economies of scale.
Networks also need to be resilient, which involves a variety of elements. Security is essential across the different network layers, including the core, access and backhaul networks as well as premises-based equipment. Infrastructure should be fault tolerant, and transmission paths need to be redundant.
Furthermore, monitoring and measurement of capacities is essential to delivering Quality of Service (QoS) and scalability to networks. Resilience is often mistakenly seen as an expense rather than a necessity. However, if the network does not work effectively, consumers will not use it or trust it, let alone spend their money on it. The cost of not having resilience is far greater than the cost of actually providing a resilient network, particularly with regard to elements like customer churn.
A well-developed connectivity market incorporates all of the above characteristics, with an open, well defined and well enforced regulatory model; sound infrastructure deployment; and multi-stakeholder collaboration and engagement.
Successful collaboration between regulators, infrastructure providers, wholesale and retail operators, service providers and content networks helps to build effective carrier communities. All organisations within these greater carrier communities have a role to play in addressing these challenges, enabling a well-developed market to evolve and helping to bridge the digital divide by providing more widespread access to the global digital economy.