Michel Combes, CEO, Alcatel-Lucent: Interview

Michel Combes, CEO, Alcatel-Lucent

Interview: Michel Combes

To what extent does the demand for data services and broadband drive investment inflows?

MICHEL COMBES: The growing demand for data services is leading to a network transformation, and therefore requires further investment. However, thanks to technology developments, the cost of data transport per kilobit has fallen significantly. In terms of internet access technologies, needs are oriented towards fibre-optic systems for fixed-access solutions, and “vectoring” to optimise copper lines and existing ADSL connections. For wireless technologies, long-term evolution (LTE) is designed for data transmission while also ensuring voice transport – unlike 2G and 3G technologies, which are designed for voice and adapted to data transmission. Indeed, secure and high-speed data transport is crucial to the internet protocol (IP) ecosystem.

Africa is at a turning point in terms of internet access. For instance, in Côte d’Ivoire, the internet penetration rate is at a mere 5%, and broadband penetration is only 1-2%. However, the arrival of submarine cables like WACS, ACE, SAT-3/WASC, EASSy, LION and TEAMS on Africa's shores is transforming the sector. Additionally, the large-scale deployment of broadband fibre-optic networks in many countries, coupled with internet service providers (ISPs) that now offer very high-speed internet, are creating an ideal environment for the growth of internet access in Africa.

In the end, investment largely comes in the form of civil engineering (i.e. cable deployment and site creation). Independent companies have also started to run operators’ transmission towers, which facilitates infrastructure sharing and thus minimises the investment needed and limits the visual impact of telecoms infrastructure.

What progress is there on 4G LTE roll-out in Africa?

COMBES: Given the low fixed-line internet penetration rate and the late deployment of 3G technologies, the roll-out of 4G LTE will be at the heart of internet development in Africa. Already in Côte d’Ivoire, sub-marine cables are being deployed on the country’s shore. ISPs are likely to replace WiMAX networks with LTE networks. Also, the liberalisation of spectrum in the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands – following the shift to digital TV planned for June 2015 – should help deploy 4G networks on a larger scale. An important ingredient to the success of LTE networks is the availability of lowcost handsets. The rapid roll-out of LTE in the US and China will greatly reduce the price of these devices and make them accessible to more and more customers.

How can networks advance towards a single converged IP infrastructure?

COMBES: IP technology is at the very heart of network evolution. Although this is not new – indeed, it is the foundation of internet architecture – the internet was originally created in an unstructured manner, without a sense of quality of service. Yet quality control is necessary to transmit voice over IP networks, and to achieve a better quality than telephone networks. Most African operators are currently studying how to transform their own systems into a single converged IP network. Ultimately, doing so is cost-effective and sustainable, and would enhance companies’ productivity.

What are the challenges to the virtualisation of network functions in Côte d'Ivoire?

COMBES: The virtualisation of network functions helps optimise investment and offers more flexibility to network operators, whose resources can then be reallocated based on needs. In the case of cloud computing, this is a useful technology for Côte d’Ivoire. However, there is a need to build local content platforms. Submarine cables may help to lower the cost of internet access, but we also need to build an “African cloud”. That is the challenge faced by Côte d’Ivoire and other countries in the sub-Saharan region. African countries need to develop their own content, and this requires data servers to be based at home. Such technology would assist the development of local content and create incubators for new technologies in Côte d'Ivoire.

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The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2015

Telecoms & IT chapter from The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2015

Cover of The Report: Côte d'Ivoire 2015

The Report

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