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Broadbannd-Zimbabwe trying to catch up

The term broadband can have a wide range of meanings in different contexts, and it has undergone substantial shifts. According to Wikipedia, the term can mean responding to or operating on a wide band of frequencies. It can also relate to a communications network in which the bandwidth can be divided and shared by multiple simultaneous signals.

 Broadband allows the transmission of voice data and video signals over a single medium. For example, cable television uses broadband to deliver dozens of channel signals over a single cable.This means that this high speed, high capacity medium can carry signals from multiple independent network carriers.

In Zimbabwe, the term broadband has been defined and expressed in a number of versions according to different understanding, experiences and exposure in the country’s ICT industry.

“There is no specific definition for the speed of a ‘broadband’ connection, but in general any Internet connection using Digital Satellite Link or Cable can be considered a broadband connection,” says Hillary Chituwu, a Support Systems Analyst at Zimbabwe Academy of Research Network, ZARNET.

According to Posts and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe, POTRAZ`s Head of Telecommunication Network, Mr. Nicolas Muzhuzha, broadband`s speed is generally above 256 Kb/sec (Kilobytes per second).

“Because we are not yet connected directly to satellite transmissions, we are limited in terms of providing high-speed Internet connectivity,” he said.

  Mr. Melton Phiri of  POTRAZ`s Frequency Department says companies are faced with many challenges.

  “There are many bottlenecks in the current transmission systems. For example, the copper cables have limited bandwidth; whereas a direct satellite link is expensive. Point to point links which use radio waves are expensive for the customer and the wireless network as well. Mostly it is the rich organizations which use broadband network and that is why the option of using fiber optic is being preferred,” he said.

  Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information from one place to another by sending pulses of light through an optical fiber. The light forms an electromagnetic carrier wave that is modulated to carry information. First developed in the 1970s, fiber-optic communication systems have revolutionized the telecommunications industry and have played a major role in the advent of the Information Age. Because of its advantages over electrical transmission, optical fibers have largely replaced copper wire communications in core networks in the developed world.

  The process of communicating using fiber-optics involves creating the optical signal from a transmitter, relaying the signal along the fiber, ensuring that the signal does not become too distorted or weak and finally receiving the optical signal and converting it into an electrical signal.  

  Zimbabwe has a number of companies that claim to offer broadband services.TelOne, Econet Wireless, AfriCom, PowerTel and Zol are some of the major players in the field.

    The companies are registered and licenced by POTRAZ which is the statutory body created and empowered to regulate the telecommunications industry in terms of Sections 3 and 4 of the Telecommunication Act, Chapter 12:05.The body licences Postal, Telecommunication and Radio Communication service. All licences are applied according to procedures laid down by the authority.

  Mr Muzhuzha of POTRAZ said Internet Service Providers are facing critical financial and technical problems hindering their operations.For example TelOne’s hub which links with Mazowe satellite station faces frequent technical problems. Though the company offers broad and narrowband services, it does not have direct optic fiber connection straight to its customers.

  “To be licenced as a telecommunication service operator, an upfront fee of US$4 million is required and this poses a real challenge to aspiring operators,” he added.

  He said that everyone is trying to get connected to broadband networks and that is why some companies use Vsat satellite services and WiMax, a wireless solution to access high-speed Internet services.

  “It is costly because it means paying the satellite operator for the bandwidth,” said Mr. Muzhuzha.

  Bandwidth is a group of frequencies which determine the rate of data transfer, throughput measured in bytes per second. It determines the amount of data that can be carried from one point to another in a given period.

  According to Mr. Muzhuzha it is hard for the local telecommunication companies to acquire most of the equipment, because some of it may have to be imported from as far as Israel.

  Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information Communication Technology oversees the establishment and promotion of a highly developed ICT conscious society in the country.

  The Ministry`s Deputy Director, Mr. Godfrey Munyazi said most of the ISP companies have a tendency of hiding and falsifying information on technological developments and acquisitions in their respective areas for fear of competition.

  “It is sometimes difficult to assess the status of most of these companies, in terms of their service provision claims because they fear their competitors might get hold of the divulged information resulting in customers shunning them,” he said.

  Establishing robust and fair bilateral interconnect agreements and frameworks at the domestic and international levels can promote access and lower consumer prices .This calls for the establishment  of a national and regional telecommunication network backbone infrastructure.

  A network backbone is part of a computer network infrastructure that interconnects various pieces of the network system providing a path for the exchange of information between different Local Area Networks or subnetworks. A backbone can tie together diverse networks in the same building, in different buildings, in a campus environment or over wide areas. The backbone's capacity must be greater than the networks connected to it.

 At the moment, a number of local Internet Service Providers are participating in setting up a national network backbone grid which should interconnect with regional networks.

  According to Mr. Muzhuzha, there are a lot of opportunities for local companies to play a part in securing access to broadband facilities and participate in the network backbone projects.

   “Because Zimbabwe is a landlocked country it means we have to link via other countries. Already TDM, a local Mozambican company has laid fibre cable from Maputo to Beira. SeaCom, a private consortium is linking Mtunzini, Kenya, Tanzania and Maputo.Countries like Botswana and Zambia are connecting and we are yet to reap fruits from our regional effort through RasCom, a private regional consortium,” he said.

  At the Zimbabwe National Telecommunication Backbone Consultative Workshop hosted by POTRAZ in Harare last September, stakeholders from different sectors of the economy met to discuss how the country should install its own national telecommunication network backbone.

     In one of its periodical publications, the World Bank Group proposed a Regional Communications Infrastructure Program at the request of New Partnership for Africa`s Development, NEPAD, Heads of State at a meeting held in Algiers in 2004.It stated that the Group would finance a submarine fiber cable along the East Coast of Africa and connect countries in the region to the global telecommunications network, either directly or through terrestrial links.

  The group envisages that by the end of the program in 2012 all capitals and major cities in East and Southern Africa (E & SA) should be linked to the global networks through competitively priced high-bandwidth connectivity.

  The program is being developed on the basis of a public private partnership and implemented in several phases and subprojects.

  The overall program will see the East and Southern Africa submarine cable connecting South Africa, Madagascar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, and Sudan, while the eastern loop network will connect Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi to the submarine cable. The Southern loop will link Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland.

According to International Telecommunication Union, ITU, the social and economic development of every country will depend on broadband.

   In a statement posted on its official website ITU asserts that in the 21st century, broadband networks are a basic national infrastructure just like transport, energy and water networks and this will completely transforms the way essential services are delivered. These range from e-health and e-education to e-commerce and e-government.

 Zimbabwe, though slowly recovering from an economic meltdown, is not lagging behind in pursuing the attainment of new, fast, viable, reliable and affordable telecommunication technologies. This is evident from the recent launch of broadband network services by PowerTel, one of the local leading network providers.

 

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