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How Africa Will 'Leapfrog' Wired Networks 183

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-ahead-and-leapfrog-social-media-too,-it's-not-worth-it dept.
umarkalim writes "In an interview with Al Jazeera, Les Cottrell at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory explains how Africa will actually 'leapfrog' the need to install hard-wired cables. He says it's often overlooked that the continent is huge and that the countries are diverse. He says, 'the cost of the infrastructure is quite high, especially if you have to connect every home with copper cables and fiber-optic cables ... I think in many cases Africa will actually "leapfrog" the need to install hard-wired cables everywhere, and will be able to use different techniques such as the BRCK modem, the low-earth orbiting satellites or the 3G solutions to get connectivity to where they need.'"
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How Africa Will 'Leapfrog' Wired Networks

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  • by MightyYar (622222) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:16AM (#44753405)

    I still can't "leapfrog" wireless in my house. Running CAT6 all over the damn place.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Wired will always be superior to wireless. Wireless is what you use when you don't have access to wired internet. With wireless you're sharing your bandwidth with everyone and their brother. With wired, you have a dedicated pipe right to your computer. I suspect that in Africa they will be deploying wireless due to the fact they don't have the infrastructure to do anything better.
      • Re:Wireless sucks (Score:5, Informative)

        by demonlapin (527802) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:32AM (#44753487) Homepage Journal
        They don't, but it's interesting how good they can make wireless. Went on safari in Kenya and Tanzania last year. I had cell signal everywhere and 3G almost everywhere. I was on big roads, of course, but service really was impressive.
        • by gerf (532474)
          And it's cheaper, with Cell C competing against MTN and the likes, and winning. Prices have come down drastically since I've been there, to the point of making my Verizon plan look uncivilized.
          • To be completely fair - and based on a recent trip to Vegas and San Francisco I'm not feeling especially charitable toward Verizon - none of those telecoms are trying to deploy across anything like the total territory of the US. It's not just population density, it's the sheer size of the country - and we expect no roaming fees.
      • Re:Wireless sucks (Score:4, Interesting)

        by PPH (736903) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:41AM (#44753545)

        With wired, you have a dedicated pipe right to your computer.

        Dedicated from the street into your home. Further out than that, you are sharing the cable or fiber with your entire neighborhood. And if the operator decides they want to reserve more bandwidth for on demand TV or whatever, you get squeezed onto what is left. Along with all the porn downloading, BitTorrenting gamers in town.

        Wireless is great because all the bandwidth hogs hate it and leave it alone.

        • by xQx (5744)

          Correct. But would you prefer a contended 10GB/s fiber connection, or a contended 100MB/s LTE connection?

          Yes, Wireless is getting better, but so is copper and so is fiber.

          The current fiber speed record (held by NTT Japan) is 1,000,000 GB/s; compare this to wireless: Speeds of over 1 GB/s are expected to be delivered by 802.11ac.

          Wireless has been "the future" for the last 40 years. Fixed technologies will always be more expensive to install, but faster, more reliable and more scalable than wireless. It's jus

          • by msauve (701917)
            s/GB/Gb/
          • When you are talking shared wires like cable modems or PON there is always the solution of just add more frequencies. With DOCSIS 3, you can have an arbitrary number of channels devoted to cable modems. So if what you have isn't enough, you can add more. Now that means taking them from something else, of course, however there's likely to be plenty available. When analogue service is discontinued, well that's 100 channels you've got right there (on many cable networks the first 600MHz is analogue cable servi

        • by Ragzouken (943900)

          what about every single average joe using netflix you're sharing your wireless with?

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          My local 3G mast is connected to the same street cabinet as my ADSL connection. The speed on both is about the same.

        • The gp meant that each computer on a wired network has a fully switched connection to each other without bandwidth interference. On wireless in any form, you *also* have to deal with interference, not just overall bandwidth availability.

      • by Chas (5144) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:43AM (#44753553) Homepage Journal

        Not necessarily.

        You're sharing SPECTRUM with everyone and their brother. And that's actually even worse.

        And building capacity for wireless is non-trivial as well. It's not just a matter of putting up another access point or uplink.

        Example: GenCon.

        Downtown Indianapolis has a plethora of connection options. Wired, wireless, cellular, etc.

        On a Friday evening it just doesn't matter. Getting online via ANY means is a joke. You're better off with IP over smoke signal. As 50,000 people (over twice the population of the city I live in and an increase in Indy's total population to the tune of about 5-6%) in the area blitz the available spectrum for wifi and cellular, while wired connections in the hotels are drowned by rooms filled to capacity and everyone sporting a laptop/tablet/etc. And it's a static population increase for those 4-5 days.

        Granted, in much of Africa, the population density is NOWHERE near that high. But you also have the same problems you would laying out a "universal" internet or power grid in the US. You have densely populated areas that are difficult and expensive to build capacity into. And you have very sparsely populated areas where people building the capacity likely will never see a return on investment. And the latter actually outnumbers the former by an order of magnitude or more. And Africa is the same thing, but with over 3x the landmass and population.

        If something like this was going to be as simple as they're talking about, it'd have been done already.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          Right, there's no profit to providing the internet to rural areas therefore no one will do it. We only got phone and electricity service to everyone in the US through strong incentives. I suspect it'll be like early days of mobile; the big cities will have it and no one else.

          Still I think getting electricity strung out first will be much more important than some fluff like wireless internet.

        • Downtown Indianapolis has a plethora of connection options. Wired, wireless, cellular, etc.

          On a Friday evening it just doesn't matter. Getting online via ANY means is a joke. You're better off with IP over smoke signal. As 50,000 people (over twice the population of the city I live in and an increase in Indy's total population to the tune of about 5-6%) in the area blitz the available spectrum for wifi and cellular, while wired connections in the hotels are drowned by rooms filled to capacity and everyone sporting a laptop/tablet/etc. And it's a static population increase for those 4-5 days.

          What you have described, Sir, is a problem of having not enough bandwidth on the outbound pipes connecting Indianapolis to the outside world.

          • by Chas (5144)

            For the wired part? Yes.
            For the wireless? No. What I've described is sheer overload of available spectrum as there's so many devices "screaming" that I simply cannot get signal, in what is otherwise a 3-4 bar area. Call quality and completion suffer similarly.

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          If something like this was going to be as simple as they're talking about, it'd have been done already.

          It's as simple as embracing mesh networking, but that's hard because convincing people that they want to use their battery to act as a repeater for others is an uphill battle.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        You need to string out the wires anyway. Most of the expense will be the long distance wires, the cheap part would only be the last few yards that wireless covers. Wireless makes more sense with high population density, but Africa is low density. Once you've strung out cable to a small village for the access point then it's not much of a big deal to just run a short wire around.

        Wireless I suspect will mean lots of batteries, most people when they say "wireless" means not attached to a power cable. That'

        • by Kjella (173770)

          Once you've strung out cable to a small village for the access point then it's not much of a big deal to just run a short wire around.

          It's quite expensive to retrofit cables to existing areas and buildings, if you have to dig it all up just for that it's often more cost efficient to do wireless. However new buildings are different, you're going to dig up the ground to put in electricity/water/sewage anyway, pull all the cables in the walls along with everything else. I can't speak much for Africa but here in Norway I'm fairly sure fiber will become standard through "organic" growth but replacing most buildings takes 50-100 years, the only

        • by jimshatt (1002452)

          most people when they say "wireless" means not attached to a power cable

          This article is about wired vs wireless *networking*. But I suspect power cabling is an issue as well. Otherwise they could just do Ethernet over Power (EoP, aka Power line communication). [wikipedia.org]

      • by necro81 (917438)

        Wired will always be superior to wireless

        Only superior by certain obvious, quantifiable, prima facia metrics: speed, latency, bandwidth, reliability. This is why Les Cottrell is probably wrong about leapfrogging. You need to have high bandwidth, low latency, and reliability (at least on the back haul) in order to have an effective network.

        Wired, however, tends to lag on a metric that matters a whole hell of a lot to end users: usability. The fastest wired network is useless by any measure if it isn'

      • by Russ1642 (1087959)

        Never use 'always' when making predictions. You just end up sounding like a retard.

    • by xQx (5744)

      Do you really need CAT6 in your house?

      In the entire time that you've had your network, have you ever exceeded the limitations of Cat5e?

      CAT6 isn't just more expensive, it's a bastard to work with.

      • Just planning ahead. Saves the need to rip and relay should ten-gig ethernet ever make it to the home.

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        Do you really need CAT6 in your house?

        No, but this way I don't have to run cable twice. It's not substantially more expensive compared to the time spent dragging it through walls.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:18AM (#44753413)

    all the houses need power anyway... as my grandfather said if you're riding the hog anyway you may as well ride it to work.

    • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

      as my grandfather said if you're riding the hog anyway you may as well ride it to work.

      LOLWUT?

  • Wireless gets them some access which is better than nothing but not even close to fiber. Your not going to magic around the spectrum issues .

    • by grcumb (781340)

      Wireless gets them some access which is better than nothing but not even close to fiber. Your not going to magic around the spectrum issues .

      Yep, it would be much more accurate to say they're leapfrogging past copper - which is a Good Thing. But fibre isn't optional, not even with O3B's MEO satellites [o3bnetworks.com] in the picture. If you look at the submarine cable map [submarinecablemap.com], you can pretty much see at a glance which countries are more aggressive about internet and technology in general, and which ones are being left behind. Fibre is going to be needed in most urban areas, even if it doesn't ultimately consist of FTTH.

      • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@p10l[ ].net ['ink' in gap]> on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @04:17AM (#44754211) Homepage

        If you look at the submarine cable map [submarinecablemap.com], you can pretty much see at a glance which countries are more aggressive about internet and technology in general

        Kind of interesting.

        If you look at the US there are lots of submarine cables but most of them are heading out across the ocean to europe and asia with a few links heading up along the coast to alaska and south/central america. If you look at europe you see the occasional coast hugging submarine cable but most of the submarine cables are either crossing a local body of water (e.g. english channel, mediteranian sea, north sea, baltic sea ) or heading off towards America or africa/asia. Australasia is a similar picture, there are submarine cables sure but they are either connecting islands or heading off out the area. I interpret this to mean that the overland infrastructure is good enough and the countries trust their neighbours enough that submarine cables are only used when there is a good technical reason for using them.

        On the other hand if you look at The middle east, africa, south and east asia and south america you see the map is dominated by cables hugging the coast with lots of landing points (virtually every non-landlocked country is hooked up to at least one of the coast hugging cables). I interpret this to mean that either the overland infrastructure in those areas sucks and/or the countries don't trust their neighbours.

        In a couple of places (libya, angola, south africa) I even see cables that only land in one country but hug the coast landing repeatedly. This really suggests that the conditions for building overland infrastructure in those places must suck.

        I also notice that a lot of the so called "undersea cables" from europe to asia cut across land in Egypt to get from the Mediterranean sea to the gulf of Suez. Could be nasty if egypt stops being friendly with the west.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        The best thing for Africa is to NOT get them hooked on stupid things like youtube or streaming video on demand. 28.8 modem is good enough to get email and news and basic web service.

        • by msauve (701917)
          You obviously don't trade email with the same people I do. You know, the ones who insist on using HTML, MIME and BASE64 encoding, jpegs in their .sigs, never trim quotes because due to their top posting habits they never see them, etc., turning a simple email into a 30KB missive.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      The old non adsl 'donated/charity' exchanges, copper quality and distance can make any useful wireless tech a good option.
      Over time, copper or optical solutions can be expanded.
      The good aspect of wireless is the ability of 'any' new firm to enter the market, rather that have to get/rent hardware at an exchange.
      Solar, line of sight and emerging wireless networking math can offer good basic service to many in cities or regional areas.
      Over time ping and user count will see the need for a build out of optic
    • by mjwx (966435) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @01:26AM (#44753743)

      Wireless gets them some access which is better than nothing but not even close to fiber. Your not going to magic around the spectrum issues .

      This.

      But the biggest issue in Africa is not spectrum (yet) it's copper theft.

      This is pretty much the only reason wireless is better than wired. There are very few components worth stealing.

    • by Urkki (668283)

      Wireless gets them some access which is better than nothing but not even close to fiber. Your not going to magic around the spectrum issues .

      Fiber has the problem of not running on batteries (at least not cheaply). Ensuring uninterrupted power supply to a bunch of base stations serving thousands of people is much easier, than ensuring uninterrupted power supply all the way to those thousands of people (who, at this day and age, will have a laptop or a tablet with battery, and might have some extra charging solution for it too).

      Note: I'm talking about brief power outages and brownouts, not total long term blackouts.

      • Run fiber on batteries all the time. Your average refrigerator on telephone pole has 24 hours of batteries. A lot of Africa needs a ton of infrastructure something China is happy to give them.

  • Didn't we know this ten years ago? How is this news?

    • Didn't we know this ten years ago? How is this news?

      It's not NEW news. Nothing out of africa is, really. We just wait until there is something interesting to report on, and ... BAM. "News" for the news-hungry masses.

    • by pthisis (27352)

      Seriously. Even in 1999 there were stories about how cell reception would leapfrog copper wire not just in Africa but in South America (where I was living, and it happened in a total no-brainer). There might as well be a story saying that Lagos won't see a huge Blu-Ray rental infrastructure built out.

      • by noh8rz10 (2716597)

        Seriously. Even in 1999 there were stories about how cell reception would leapfrog copper wire not just in Africa but in South America (where I was living, and it happened in a total no-brainer). There might as well be a story saying that Lagos won't see a huge Blu-Ray rental infrastructure built out.

        redbox ftw!

  • Missing wires (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tekoneiric (590239) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @12:34AM (#44753495) Journal
    They are leapfrogging wired because every time they lay down wires it gets stolen and sold on the black market. The news was talking about that years ago. It's forcing them to use wireless.
    • Re:Missing wires (Score:4, Interesting)

      by aXis100 (690904) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @01:07AM (#44753651)

      I had a mate who had a few kilometers of fibre cable deployed outside of their refinery area in africa. Unsurprisingly, some enterprising bugger would come along and dig it up, hack into it only to discover it wasn't copper. That in itself wouldnt be too bad - I mean it's not the end of the world to pull a bit of slack and splice the ends together.

      Unfortunately the same would-be copper thief would then travel along the cable a few more metres and try again... and again. Just in case it changed you know?

    • We have people in the US ripping up three phase electrical cabling from the outside of buildings. You want to talk about having a set of balls! These guys know no fear when it comes to ripping off solid copper. I'm pretty sure the guys in Africa have no problem pulling electrical wiring leading up to the towers too.

    • by MadX (99132)

      I can confirm. I have seen where cables were laid, and while they are busy trying to terminate - 2 kilometers down the road, they are busy digging it up. So at the end of the day, despite wireless being slow, it still becomes the data delivery method of choice. Also, there is a single entity that realy "owns" the majority of cables (Telkom), and they are resisting pressure to reduce pricing.

      So the private firms use wireless, because it frees them from having to rely on a state owned enterprise that controls

    • There is this false idea that wireless is better than wired, that we will all move over, everything will be wireless all the time and life will be grand.

      Nope. You can always get more bandwidth, quite a bit more, out of wires than wireless. That pesky Shannonâ"Hartley Coding Theorem just keeps cropping up and getting in the way. If you want more bits per second, you either need more bandwidth (meaning more spectrum) or a better signal to noise ratio. When you are talking wireless the only thing you can

    • In a country where the median yearly income is measured in hundreds of dollars, copper is relatively worth so much that you might as well be laying miles and miles of gold wire instead.

      A man's first responsibility in this world is to keep his children from starving to death. Somewhere way, way after that comes his responsibility to obey laws that don't involve violent offenses.

  • Yes, it is [amazonaws.com]...

  • OLD news (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chromaexcursion (2047080) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @01:46AM (#44753811)
    In the late 90's several African countries were going cellular only, outside of major cities.
    This article is 15 years out of date.

    One of my company's clients at the time was the Republic of the Congo.
    Nothing like first hand knowledge.
    • Re:OLD news (Score:5, Insightful)

      by x_IamSpartacus_x (1232932) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @02:19AM (#44753891)
      You're absolutely right. I live in Mozambique and people in the DEEP bush (read: rural areas) who live in houses made of mud or grass have cell phones are able to do simple banking even on old candy bar phones. Here in the capitol of Maputo, in the last year, smart phone and tablet use has exploded. Mozambique has 3 cell networks that offer 3G connectivity and one is talking up their 4G transition for next year. I think the intuition of the touch screen is being proven here as people who were raised without running water or power are able to pick up and use a smartphone while the same person struggles to a comical degree trying to understand and use with any semblance of efficacy a laptop or desktop PC.

      Oh... Mozambique is the 3rd least developed country IN THE WORLD according to the UNDP [undp.org]
      So yeah, this Les Cotrell is just a guy wanting to sound smart by explaining things about Africa to people who know nothing about Africa. This happened long ago.
      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        What do those remote phones connect to? They have to have a wired infrastructure out to the access points. We can't even get good mobile service in rural US.

        • What do those remote phones connect to? They have to have a wired infrastructure out to the access points. We can't even get good mobile service in rural US.

          Nope, cell towers are often (almost always?) hooked up with microwave links,

          • by Shatrat (855151)

            Some towers can be microwave links, but those links are going to have to home back to another tower that is fiber or copper fed. Even then you are hurting your ability to run LTE base stations at those microwave towers.

  • Africa was indeed poised to leapfrog wired networks, but then they had to eat the frog.
  • Just get the best from both worlds: wired low orbit satellites.

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