Cabling the land: A new fibre-optic network is linking up the country

Côte d’Ivoire has been establishing the necessary infrastructure to improve conditions for the expansion of telecoms and information technologies usage in the country. Critical in this effort is the ongoing project of setting-up a nationwide, fibre-optic broadband network. The National Broadband Project, launched in 2012, will deploy close to 7000 km of fibre optics and cost a total of CFA106.8bn (€160.2m).

Creating a reliable broadband network to connect the country will be essential in fuelling the growth of the IT and telecoms sector, and the deepening of its weight in the Ivorian economy.

National Coverage

Managed by the country’s National Agency for Universal Service Telecommunications (Agence Nationale du Service Universel des Télécommunications, ANSUT), the project to set up the fibre-optic backbone has been divided into three sections that cover different regions.

The first section, launched in 2013, will establish fibre optics along the north and south-east parts of the country, running for 1400 km, between the port city of San Pedro and Ferkessédougou. Expected to be completed by in 2017, this first section is being carried out by Chinese firm Huawei. A smaller section of the project, linking the economic capital Abidjan to the country’s east through 620 km of fibre optics, was completed in November 2015. The project was led by China International Telecommunication Construction Corporation (CITCC), and as of mid-2016 was awaiting permission from ARTCI to begin operating.

Work on the third and largest section of the national broadband network was launched in April 2016. Expected to be 5000 km long, this section of the fibre-optic backbone will be set-up by a consortium made up of French firms Bouygues, SagemCom and Polyconseil, which were chosen after a government tender was launched at the end of 2015. Authorities expect the third section of the project to be completed in 2017. The building of the network will be partly financed through the country’s National Telecommunications Fund, which is managed by ANSUT. The fund collects a 2.5% annual tax on the telecoms operators’ revenues, which are invested back by the government into sectoral programmes.

Linking Possibilities

The new broadband fibre-optic network will link all of the country’s regions, and is set to benefit both the government’s policy of increasing ICT usage and delivering public services online, as well as the expansion of telecoms operators. The project has nonetheless faced some challenges. In early 2016 the government had requested that Chinese contractor Huawei perform maintenance work on about 1000 km of previously installed fibre optics, in an area linking San Pedro to the economic capital Abidjan. The infrastructure had been laid down between 2012 and 2015, but according to authorities, did not fulfil some of the contracted quality criteria.

However, one clear advantage of the project will be the expansion of internet penetration levels. According to figures by ARTCI, the number of internet subscriptions in the country rose from 5.2m at the end of 2014 to 7.5m as of the second quarter of 2016. The majority of the country’s users access the internet on their phones, with mobile internet accounting for 98.66% of connections in mid-2016. Supported by the new infrastructure, usage is also set to increase with the rollout of 4G services, which the sector’s three operators, Orange, MTN and Moov, launched in early 2016.

Public Services

Expanding the country’s e-government strategy will also rely heavily on the new broadband network. Authorities have based the improvement of e-government on three ambitious objectives: establishing a fully digital public administration; creating an individual identification number for Ivorian citizens to facilitate their relationship with public services; and establishing a comprehensive nationwide database that centralises information on important identifiers such as birth certificates and other administrative documents.