Interview: Alex Bernard Bongo Ondimba

How can local consumers benefit from the African Coast to Europe (ACE) cable?

ALEX BONGO ONDIMBA: Despite the recent growth in access to telecommunications services, especially in the mobile phone segment, Gabon suffers from excessively high internet costs. This is partly due to the lack of broadband infrastructure; however, the ACE cable will help address this issue. While Gabon Telecom owns the rights to use this cable, and has international broadband access via the South Atlantic-3/West Africa Submarine Cable, the operator faces a number of issues in meeting the need for low-cost connectivity for public administrators, businesses and communities.

Many network operators and internet service providers (ISPs) rely on satellite links to interconnect with foreign networks. In this context, operators’ costs for international transmission are particularly high, which heavily impacts the price of services. This is particularly true for ISPs; 90% of their traffic uses international links. Consequently, internet and ICT development are hampered, as rates are far too high for the majority of the Gabonese population.

The ACE cable will allow Gabon to liberalise the entire telecommunication sector and this will empower intensive price competition and diversify service offerings. Prices will decrease and the cable will allow for greater international bandwidth, providing faster access to the internet and more reliable connectivity.

What factors will influence fibre-optic adoption?

BONGO ONDIMBA: In the medium term, obsolete copper-based technologies cannot support the increasing broadband speed and new services like HDTV, video-on-demand or web 2.0. Additionally, the industry needs to adapt to new consumers’ behaviour using services like telemedicine and distance learning.

Nowadays, sufficient and efficient telecommunication infrastructure has become a prerequisite for companies investing in the country. Therefore, by being largely involved in the implementation of high-speed networks, the public sector aims to increase the availability of high-quality telecommunication networks. Nevertheless, a few challenges still need to be overcome such as implementing regulatory reforms, ensuring fair access and improving public awareness.

In terms of spectrum management, what is being done to help implement 3G services?

BONGO ONDIMBA: The rapid growth in demand for commercial mobile services (CMS) presents a great challenge in terms of managing radio frequencies. CMS enables mobile applications, including video and data acquisition, generating a need for faster broadband and, ultimately, higher spectrum requirements to enable 3G services. In compliance with two communication methods – Frequency Division Duplex (FDD) and Time Division Duplex (TDD) – regulatory agencies have established a mobile cellular system at 2100 MHz. This spectrum band will allow the four local mobile operators to use both FDD and TDD, with a bandwidth of 14.8 MHz and 5 MHz per operator, respectively. Indeed, for six months, one operator has successfully tested this band; however, the sector is waiting for the highest authorities’ decisions to fully assign the band.

What benefits are related to the switchover from analogue to digital television?

BONGO ONDIMBA: Overall, the ICT sector faces a growing demand for spectrum as broadband services expand. Interestingly enough, because analogue broadcasting requires more frequencies than the digital equivalent, ending analogue channels will free up a relatively large volume of frequencies. A number of other advantages are also linked to digital use such as higher image quality and better reception. Furthermore, thanks to new broadcasting standards, it will be possible to broadcast many programmes with one frequency, resulting in a higher number of channels. Finally, in terms of energy consumption, digital transmission requires less power than analogue transmission.