FTTH deployment challenges in Africa

Tue 18 Oct 2022

Distributing a high-speed network at acceptable rates for all stakeholders requires a reflection on the implementation of a sustainable design-build-operate-maintain strategy for the network.

Accelerating broadband connectivity is a priority for African governments to expedite economic and social development. For investors, the temptation to duplicate the European model is strong: deploying large-scale all-fiber terrestrial networks without integrating the specificities of the regional ecosystem, nor the particular needs of the populations would be confusing speed with precipitation...

In Africa, only 350 million people out of 1.3 billion have access to the Internet. In many countries, FTTH/B coverage remains below 1%; elsewhere, it rarely exceeds 10%[1]. Accelerating the digital transformation of countries is strategic for the development of services (health, education, secure payments, micro-credit), of agriculture, and of businesses. Stimulated by the arrival of a new, high-capacity pan-African submarine cable and the financial support of major international public and private investors, governments and operators are committed to the rapid deployment of thousands of km of fiber. However, imitating Europe, whose ambition is to provide fiber to 100% of its territories, regardless of their density, following industrialized processes, is not always relevant in the African territorial and economic context.

Integrate local and regional issues to ensure a return on investment

The construction of an FTTH network costs millions of euros. The question of ROI is particularly sensitive in countries with limited financial resources. However, deployments carried out in a hurry often run up against three problems:

  • Less optimization of investment costs. Sometimes, the investor bets on an almost all-fiber network where the route of his network is not adapted to the local context. In fact, in order to limit costs, he is tempted to reproduce a standardized European deployment without considering possible mutualizations between operators (infra-sharing-FTTH). However, this kind of mutualization would enable coverage of larger areas, lower access costs for users and stimulate competition in service offerings.
  • A quality deficit. Seeing that it was poorly designed or installed, the fiber network is exposed to frequent outages or failures that generate OPEX for the operator and create strong customer dissatisfaction.
  • Difficulties in marketing the services offered. Cable capacity is under-exploited as the operator has not taken into account the needs of local users and their financing capabilities. In countries where ARPU is very low, each request – either a public network for hospitals, rural infrastructure, or an extension of fiber to new residential areas – raises specific questions that require a tailor-made response.

Distributing a high-speed network at acceptable rates for all stakeholders requires a reflection on the implementation of a sustainable design-build-operate-maintain strategy for the network.

7 keys to an efficient and profitable fiber deployment strategy in Africa

1. Study, in advance, the technology adapted to the services required in each area

A technical solution combining FTTH fiber on some sections and 5G/4G mobile network on others is often more relevant and profitable than an all-fiber deployment. It is up to the decision-making bodies, duly accompanied by experts, to position themselves above the "fixed network" and "mobile network" departments in order to consider an adapted coverage and deployment: study, in each area, the existing or expected needs and applications, as well as the existing or future connectivity solutions.

2. Better leverage the existing infrastructure and aerial deployment opportunities

When possible, reusing infrastructure is possible under two conditions:

  • To have a digitalized map describing the typology (nature, load capacity...) and the geolocation of the mobilizable infrastructures (sewers, poles...). If not, we will search in archives or in the field for the data necessary to optimize the design (calculation of load, cost, etc.).
  • Integrate as much as possible these infrastructures in the design of the fiber path – even if it seems simpler to design one's own path – in order to limit costs, including environmental costs, deployment times and mutualization problems.
  • The aerial deployment of a fiber network is also possible: it is a more economical solution in the short term and faster to implement.

3. Rely on smart methods for planning fiber deployment

Based on technical data (cost estimates, deployment constraints in each zone), geographical data, sociological data, and environmental data (measurement of market appetite in a defined zone), these methods evaluate ROI[2] zone by zone, allowing deployment to be prioritized. They are based on the contributions of data/AI.

4. Work on engineering rules to optimize costs

Engineering and network architecture choices (the positioning of the Mutualization Points, Connection Points, strategy for handling isolated outlets, etc.) enable the construction of a network which quality is adapted to the services deployed. The adaptation of engineering rules in countries that often lack regulations and standards is a lever for optimizing the economic model for deployment.

5. Ensure the quality of network deployment

To avoid cuts in backbones buried less than 1 m from the ground surface and other aberrations that weigh heavily on maintenance costs, sourcing the right suppliers is a crucial challenge. It is in the operator's interest to rely on qualified technicians and an independent expert in charge of supervising all the work. This is all the more important as the promises of 5G are closely linked to the quality of fiber deployment.

6. Study the degree of outsourcing required for fiber network operation

The maintenance and marketing of the fiber network require continuous monitoring, which is time-consuming and costly when fully internalized. The operator can seek expert advice to define its network operating model and establish its outsourcing strategy.

7. Rely on an integrator to evolve and optimize the tools over time

Fiber customers need to be able to order their services smoothly and efficiently. An experienced integrator will be able to think of all the bricks (OSS, BSS, QoS, billing...) necessary for the proper functioning and performance of a solid IS. The integrator helps the operator to measure over time the quality of its network to the end user and to improve it.


Unlike what is often thought, new technologies such as DATA-AI or automatic network design tools, are not equivalent to costly expenses. Many feedbacks confirm an improvement in performance. They offer operators the opportunity to optimize their CAPEX and OPEX.

All fiber and 5G are not relevant everywhere: many widely used mobile payment and M2M services work with 2G!  It is therefore important to focus on the right choices, based on local issues, and to focus on high-value-added services


Written by Clément Grégoire, Head of Very High Broadband practice, Sofrecom et Mohammad Diab, Senior network project manager, Sofrecom


[1] Source : IDATE. World FTTx markets. June 2022

[2] Return On Investment