Monday, February 23, 2009

What Bandwidth Backbone Makes The Most Sense For Networks In Africa, Middle East, And Latin America?

Given network infrastructure available in each region ... what bandwidth solution make the most sense (and why) for designing network solutions to meet business voice/data needs?

This is a difficult question to answer given the challenges faced by each region. The reality may be there is no easy answer. There is no "one size fits all" that covers all of these regions at once. So each must be treated seperately and distinctly to have any chance of success.

Some of the factors to consider likely deemed important would include business (e.g. type of business, number of locations in the network) technology (e.g. copper, fiber, wireless backaul) economic (financing, ROI of implementation, budget), political (e.g. stable governement, nationalized services, free market encouraged entrepreneurship), and regulatory (e.g. internal goverment restrictions, international connectivity limitations).

For example .... is a DS3 based solution viable for a multi-site WAN network in Nigeria? T1 for a single location in Brazil? Ethernet for a campus LAN in Bahrain?

These regions of the world are also commonly referred to as "developing nations", which is usually true of their infrastructure, and communcations infrastructure included.

Persian gulf emirates ..... and to some extent Brazil (in the big metro areas) .... are well developed and you can expect the same telecom services to some extent as in the USA and Europe.

Elsewhere, availability is scarce and inconsistent.

For this reason many developing nations are focusing on cellular communications intending to "skip" the development of wireline infrasructure altogether. For example basing it on direct satelite service, like VSAT. There is of course the issue of delay with this approach that will effect voice and high-interactivity, so if delay is an important factor you may need to consider use of Irridium (not sure what's became of them ) or some other low-orbit satelites.

Before digging into the technical aspects for a Middle East or African network infrastructure one should look into the political situation. Most of these countries still have their local phone companies government owned. At best they are a monopoly directed by political powers and local rich people. Once you tap into the right people, these countries are more adopting of leading and bleeding edge technologies. Customers in these regions are more prone to using the "latest-&-greatest" mostly for novelty reasons. In the end, it does not matter why customers subscribe as long as the business is there!

In Africa there have been some improvements in the terrestrial subsea connectivity but that doesn't help much in reaching specific locations and providing backhaul. Similarly VSAT has been the traditional solution in Africa and some other remote regions but the proliferation of WiMax is generating increasing problems of interference. This is compounded by the unpredictable nature of licensing and controls. In my view Latin America has improved quite significantly in general access provision but quality and cost is still difficult to predict and manage. In the Middle East a lot of investment has and is taking place .... but here the biggest hurdle tends to be regulatory and the lack of an open market for supply.

A true "answer" can only be achieved by detailed study of IT and telecom prospects and existing infrastructure availability in each region. To this end the following factors should be considered;

Technology .....

This type of pursuit all depends upon types of services to be offered (like voice “Fixed or cellular”, leased circuits for WAN, broadband, Triple Play, IPTV, etc), users (e.g number of users, individual or corporate, scattered or concentrated), service coverage and existing available backbone network infrastructure (e.g. OFC network with PDH, SDH, DWDM or MW via PDH, SDH) .... then we could be able to forecast backbone bandwidth, evaluate existing available infrastructure, plan enhancements if required, select technology, and estimate the investment. The short answer is that T1, DS3, and OC3 bandwidth make sense if line infrastructure is readily available for tie in. Fiber makes better sense (ethernet) if grid is readily available and supported. If none of these are reasonably available in quantity than VSAT will continue as solution of choice with tie in to minimal hard line structure "nodes" where present.

Business/Economic ....

To prepare a business model, the factors would include by neccessity CAPEX, OPEX, NPV, IRR, revenue based on ARPU for a specific offered service, taxes, licensing fees, Inflation rate, decline in ARPU due to expected competition, last mile connectivity for corporate customer, and unforeseen costs in licensing/approvals and project rollout. This category seems the most self limiting over any technology challenges.

Regulatory / Administrative (Political) .....

The administrative factors involved would be different for each region ..... like monopolized regime and political situations in Africa and partially de-regulated environment in most of the countries in the Middle East ..... normally getting a license is a tricky job in many countries.

For each of the regions cited (Africa, Middle East, Latin America) .... depending upon your analysis per the above factors .... you may find that a realistic solution may be that a hybrid of technologies would be needed. For example, VSAT can offer a worldwide network and be integrated into terrestrial networks (T1, DS3, OCx, fast ethernet) where feasible and available. In the end there is no single solution that fits every scenario ... you must be flexible and innovative to target the right solution for each situation on it's own merits.

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