I have previously written about the high cost of mobile data in Kenya and how Kenyans heavily rely on their mobile phones to connect to the internet. This is the reason why Kenyans are quick to ask for the Wi-Fi password in restaurants and other places because it is an opportunity to experience the internet in abundance – without keeping an eye on the size of the video being downloaded.

For the internet to fully bring a transformation we need a form of access that is affordable for most people, and better still, have unlimited access. Having a form of abundance liberates the users to be free to explore the many potential benefits that the internet brings to our lives.

At the moment, the dominant form of internet access is through mobile networks which offer a metered internet. The ideal situation would be where people have a fiber connection. This would allow for abundant access, as well as reducing the cost of the same.

Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2020 Report at a glance. Source: GSMA

Fiber vs Wireless

To the users, there is a stark difference between wireless internet and a fiber connection in terms of cost. A 5 Mbps connection will cost Kshs 3000 a month on Safaricom home fiber, while the same delivered wirelessly via a 4G network costs Kshs 5000 per month. The wireless cost also requires an initial investment of KShs 11,000, while the fiber installation is free (where it is available).

For ISPs, this cost is justifiable due to the operational costs involved in the two models. The wireless network has a low initial cost of installation, but the operational costs are quite high in terms of power and wireless frequencies. On fiber, it is costly to lay the initial infrastructure to every home, but the operational costs are very minimal.

This is why the fiber connection wins in the long term.

Fiber on electricity poles

How can we make the fiber more available in residential areas?

For some time now, several ISPs have been doing overhead distribution by either partnering with Kenya Power or laying the infrastructure needed. This is an easy way to reach people because Kenya Power already has access to almost every home in urban areas.

The method is also reliable because no one is likely to tamper with a cable that is hanging on a power line. In contrast, underground cables are prone to regular cuts and interference.

Getting people connected with overhead fiber cables should not be a very complicated task since we already have electricity cables to our homes. Sometimes I think this one area that Kenya Power slept on the job.

Although they possess a huge network of optical fiber cables, these are usually dark fiber which is leased to telcos. They have never bothered with the last mile connection yet they are in thousands of homes and most of the schools.

One of the methods used to deploy fiber in Kenya is ISPs partnering with Kenya Power by installing fiber cables on electricity poles.

5G Networks

5G promises to deliver faster speeds and will likely change the current scenario where users are charged per megabyte to dedicated bandwidth. This, however, will not disrupt the place of fiber.

Even with 5G, the bulk of communication should be through the fiber with the 5G networks serving the last mile connection. Fiber will still rule.

This is the reason why we need to take fiber more seriously as a resource to be protected and encouraged.

The regular cuts we see every day and the huge licensing costs that some counties in Kenya charge those laying fiber are counterproductive to the availability of ‘good’ internet.

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