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Challenges faced by the Telecoms Industry in Africa…

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three capital cities for our annual NG Telecoms Africa Summit. Now, I have been to a couple of Telecom summits before, but the conversations across this one felt a little obsolete… Africa’s experience of telecoms is somewhat hindered, something which is especially noticeable when comparing its challenges to those discussed and faced by the Western world. For Africa, it’s not the problem of powering ahead of the consumer, but powering up at all.

Back in November, I attended our European Telecoms Summit in Lisbon and sat among some senior executives in the industry. Not once did I feel as though their struggle was keeping up with the consumer, as I felt in Africa. Orange Cameroon’s Director of Quality and Special Projects, Azaria A’ba Nhomba, hosted the first roundtable in Pretoria and one question that absolutely dominated it, and the summit, was ‘how can we prevent this insufficient power we have because it is bloomin’ ruining our networks?’

A few years ago, I spent 5 months working in South Africa and experienced, first hand, how its fleeting electrical supply affects everyday living. Living on a Game Reserve just outside of Johannesburg meant a lack of, well anything. The most painful withdrawal symptom I suffered was from my beloved internet. I could handle not having a cooker or enduring a freezing shower, that’s fine. Take away my only means of communicating with home, and I swiftly morph into the Mr T without his Snickers. I had no signal and no internet. What I did have, and am not entirely grateful for, was a family of frogs living in my bedroom. My evening entertainment had transformed from FaceTiming family or uploading beautiful photos of South Africa to Instagram, into a nightmare where my goal was preventing frogs jumping into my mouth… It took some getting used to. Just as I was adjusting to what felt like the Stone Age, I had a very real experience of just how parts of South Africa are affected by an inconsistent supply of electricity…

Part way through the evening, there was ‘rolling blackout’. This is an intentionally engineered shutdown of electricity delivery, designed as a last resort measure to avoid total blackouts of the power system. A physical sign of the challenges Africa’s telecoms industry faces. How can networks compete with these incessant encounters? Well, some of the solutions from our industry experts at the NG Telecoms Africa Summit included exploring alternative power solutions such as reusable/green energy, solar energy, wind hybrids and rechargeable power units. Seems like a solution which utilises what the environment provides Africa, but why hasn’t this already been implemented? There are complications with every solution, and because of the economic climate in Africa, sadly nothing is simple.

There were many overlapping themes across roundtables and workshops which, bears testimony to the fact that no single operator unit functions in isolation. As analyst Dobek Pater explained, all the different components of a telecommunications operation are intertwined to deliver the optimal product or service to the customer, to achieve customer satisfaction. This is becoming more real than ever as technology evolves at a speed we can’t contend with, leading us toward a greater convergence with IT services.

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