The Keys to Fiber Expansion in Western Sahel
Fiber optic networks have the potential to provide higher capacity Internet relative to microwave. However, due to low initial demand and economic uncertainty, internet operators in the Western Sahel (Mauritania, Mali and Senegal) have historically chosen microwave, the lower capacity and cFheaper option. But, increasing demand – both in terms of bandwidth requirements and number of consumers – is stretching the limits of what microwave can provide. In Mauritania the percentage of people with access to the Internet has jumped from 0.5% in 2004 to 6.2% as of 2013 (a compound annual growth rate of 32%). To meet this demand, internet operators, national governments, and international organizations have increased funding for fiber infrastructure expansion. The result is three regional fiber expansion projects that have emerged in the Western Sahel: the OMVS Network, WARCIP, and the Trans-African Optical Cable. These networks can be viewed in the visualization below.
Incorporating high capacity fiber into large-scale development projects, notably electrification and railways, offers great potential for fiber expansion. Excess capacity can be sold to telecom providers, boosting project revenue while ensuring both present and future capacity needs are meet. The Organisation pour la Mise en Valeur du Fleuve Senegal (OMVS), is a multinational project aimed to develop the Senegal River watershed. OMVS has installed aerial fiber alongside power lines, which is utilized by national telecommunications operators SOTELMA in Mali, Mauritel in Mauritania, and SONATEL in Senegal. By utilizing OMVS fiber telecommunications operators save money, which otherwise would be spent on building separate fiber networks. Thus, regional and private-public sector cooperation can help offset fiber construction costs, while supporting a collective long-term vision of improved internet access for all.
The West Africa Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (WARCIP), a $300 million project, is working to further expand fiber infrastructure in West Africa. In 2013, Phase 2 of WARCIP began with a focus on Mauritania, proposing the construction of a terrestrial fiber cable along the border with Senegal to provide domestic redundancy and optimize regional integration. A fiber cable connection between Nouakchott and Choum in northern Mauritania was also proposed. Current fiber rollout plans in Mauritania involve laying over 2,000 kilometers of new long-haul fiber, providing improved Internet connectivity to rural areas while replacing the existing slower and aging microwave linkages. Phase 3 of WARCIP plans to expand fiber in Mali by constructing a fiber link between Mopti and Gao, which holds the potential to extend to the Algerian border. Telecommunications providers in Algeria could build a fiber link to the Algerian-Mali border, and lease capacity in Algeria to Malian operators. This would provide a complete fiber connection across the Sahara to submarine cables in the Mediterranean Sea, and onward access to Europe.
Trans-African Optical Fiber Cable
WARCIP projects in northern Mali have experienced delays due to armed conflicts, but major strides have been made in the south. The Malian section of the Trans-African Optical Fiber Cable was completed in February 2014, funded by SOTELMA. The project involved the installation of over 1,000 kilometers of terrestrial fiber between Sikasso and the Mauritanian border, passing through Segou and Bamako, the cable will connect to Mauritel’s network in Mauritania. International connectivity is key for Mali, as the state is landlocked and all fiber capacity must pass through neighboring coastal countries to reach high-capacity submarine cables.
Fiber optic infrastructure in the Western Sahel is developing with increasing complexity. HIP Consult’s mapping and analytics platform InfraNav™ provides a means to examine fiber expansion, alongside analytics to assess the effectiveness of current and future fiber projects. According to InfraNav’s calculations, over 70% of Senegal’s population lives within 5 kilometers of existing fiber infrastructure. In Mali and Mauritania, the percentage is substantially lower, but progress is being made thanks to the projects discussed. Over 800,000 people live within a 5 kilometers reach of proposed longhaul WARCIP fiber links in Mali and Mauritania. By geographically analyzing fiber supply and demand, InfraNav can help assess the effectiveness of existing and future projects. As fiber continues to expand, HIP Consult’s experienced mapping team will continue to track its growth in the Western Sahel and throughout the continent. We welcome any relevant information, as we are constantly working to maintain the most comprehensive, accurate fiber optic infrastructure database.
 HIP Consult defines Fiber Reach as a statistic that represents fiber connectivity potential. It shows the number the people who live within 5 kilometers of fiber, which provides a measure of the how many potential customers could request last-mile connectivity from local telecom providers and operators.
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