Namibia’s Digital Connectivity Good For Tourists

12 Mar 2021

Brigitte Weidlich

Discovering Namibia’s amazing landscapes and awe-inspiring wildlife is a unique experience – we all love to share these photos and videos on social media with family and friends. Can this be done in the middle of nowhere under a remote camel thorn tree in the bush? The proud answer is ‘yes – you can’ – well, not exactly on each and every square centimetre in Namibia, but ‘yes’ at lodges, restaurants in nature parks and campsites.

It is such a joy to stay in touch with your loved ones in this way and share your day’s adventures with them in pictures; after having encountered a herd of elephants or capturing that rare bird species you hoped to find in Namibia.

Many lodges and campsites have heavily invested in their mobile communication systems with boosters and intricate technology to offer tourists and locals alike good connectivity. So often, our teams have put a smile on arriving teenagers’ faces, when they arrive with their families asking ‘do you have wi-fi?’ and the answer is ‘yes’.

It is quite awesome to watch wild animals at a waterhole from the terrace of a bush lodge (with devices on silent mode, of course), capturing the experience and either share it directly via WIFI with friends and family abroad or the next day, after selecting your best photos.

Although Namibia is a big country with long distances, a small population of some 2.4 million people and relatively few towns, its information and communication technology (ICT) network is comparatively among the best in Africa.

WACS Undersea cable (Photo: Vutuel)

Digital infrastructure Two local networks make this possible, Telecom Namibia (TN) and Mobile Telecommunications (MTC). They are wholly owned by the government. While Telecom has traditionally developed the fixed line network in the country, it created a subsidiary, TN Mobile a few years ago to become a player in mobile telecommunications as well. Broadband connectivity has practically become routine for users in Namibia, while bandwidth has room for improvement. The cost is debatable. “Internet could be cheaper,” most businesses and individual consumers say.

MTC has recently embarked on its ‘081 for everyone’ strategy and erects network towers in very remote rural areas so that villagers, farmers and the tourism sector can use 3G connectivity. In the urban areas, 4G is the order of the day. The Windhoek municipality is toying with the idea to join the ICT sector and roll out 5G with partners under its ‘smart city’ strategy in order to offer free WIFI in the city – at least in the centre of town. The Namibia Communication Regulatory Authority (CRAN) was tasked by Cabinet to conduct a study about a possible 5G rollout after a public outcry about alleged health issues with regards to this technology. Neighbouring South Africa has already embarked on the 5G connectivity journey.

“The fourth industrial revolution is upon us and Namibia must stay abreast of these ICT developments, which will also create jobs for young people,” President Hage Geingob said recently.

The Covid-19 pandemic has propelled many countries, including Namibia into virtual technologies like video conferencing, e-learning, home schooling and home office as well as live-streaming major events.

Advanced infrastructure development

History was made in the Namibian telecommunications sector when the much-awaited West Africa Cable System (WACS) arrived in Swakopmund in February 2011.

Telecom Namibia and Paris-based Alcatel-Lucent Submarine Networks jointly executed the project. Botswana shared the landing costs as the country also was connected to the WACS. The 14,500-kilometer-long cable directly connects the United Kingdom, Portugal, West Africa, Namibia and South Africa with a capacity of 5.12 terabit per second. It has 14 landing points. In December 2015, an upgrade was completed, which increased the WACS capacity to 14.5Tbit/s.

MTC tubestar macro base near Okahandja. (Photo: MTC)

For the tech-savvy readers here are some details about the WACS: One of its four fibre pairs is a direct route from South Africa to Europe, a so-called express lane. The second and third fibre pairs are designed as a semi-express lane, one with two hops, from South Africa to West Africa and West Africa to Europe and the other with three stops. The fourth fibre pair is called an omnibus fibre for obvious reasons. It stops off at all landing ports en route and is thus slower.

While Telecom Namibia had already connected Namibia by terrestrial fibre optic cables to Angola, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa, it has since 2011 linked the land-locked countries of Zambia and Botswana to the WACS.

Google brings Equiano to Africa

In 2019, the global ICT giant Google announced that it would commission an undersea cable from Europe along the West African coast. It is named after Olaudah Equiano, a Nigerian-born writer and slavery abolitionist who was enslaved as a boy.

The Equiano cable is state-of-the-art infrastructure based on space-division multiplexing (SDM) technology, with approximately 20 times more network capacity than the WACS.

Equiano will be the first subsea cable to incorporate optical switching at the fibre-pair level, rather than the traditional approach of wavelength-level switching. “This simplifies the allocation of cable capacity, enabling the flexibility to add and reallocate it in different locations,” according to a technical report.

Telecom Namibia has collaborated with the private sector network providers Paratus Namibia and Demshi Investments to land Equiano in Swakopmund and connect Namibia and other

southern African countries eventually. The landing station is nearing completion. The subsea cable will reach Swakopmund in the second half of 2022.

Future plans ahead

The ministry of information and communication technology (MICT) is the driver behind the government’s plans to attain 100 percent digital television and radio broadcasts to all households by 2024. Similarly, 95% broadband coverage and usage is planned for schools and health facilities countrywide.

The MICT launched its national broadband policy in 2020 together with an action plan to achieve reliable and affordable broadband access infrastructure services. Draft accesses to information law and cyber crime legislation are currently prepared. By 2025, the Namibian government wants to implement an ‘open access network’ sharing policy to achieve universal broadband access the same year.

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