The Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications (GCT) has welcomed the government's directive that contractors should regularly engage telecom companies before embarking on any road work in the country. The novelty directive, which was recently issued by the Minister of Roads and Highways, Alhaji Inusah Fuseini, aims to put an end to the incessant fibre cuts, a setback that is costing local mobile network operators millions of Cedis. In furtherance to this, the ministry, he said planned to establish a standing technical committee (STC) to deal with the incidents of fibre cuts in the West African country.
The proposed STC, Alhaji Fuseini noted, would serve as an advisory body to guide and identify cable and fibre markings before actual construction begins. Welcoming the move in an interview with The Chronicle in Accra as part of a campaign being championed by Journalists for Business Advocacy (JBA), the Research and Communications Manager at the Ghana Chamber of Telecommunications, Derek Barnabas Laryea, said: "The chamber has not studied the directive, but in general building roads in consultation with telcos is a fantastic idea".
He stated that if the directive was adhered to religiously by the stakeholders it would reduce fibre cuts in the country drastically. The Minister of Communications, Dr. Edward Omane Boamah lamented: "Fiber cuts cut people in communities and cities off the telecommunications super highway depriving them of vital services.
"This is why following an inter ministerial meeting, including the National Security, government enhanced cooperation among stakeholders for the implementation of the Right of way policy". He added: "Telcos have also been urged to report all cases of fiber cuts to the nearest police station. The fibre does not contain copper, as the criminals think. Copper cable technology is not popular now".
Dr. Boamah assured telecom service providers in the country that the government would continue to intensify the fight against fiber cuts. Telcos are also urged to invest in technologies that allow for minimal interference, the Communications Minister said. According to the telecoms chamber 1,370 fibre cuts were recorded nationwide within the six-month period beginning January, 2014, which appeared to overtake the incidents recorded in the past three years.
There were at least 2,302 fibre optic cable cuts experienced by the telecom service providers in 2013, a rise from 1,605 and 480 cuts in 2012 and 2011 respectively. Mr. Laryea said repairing the cuts was costly, saying "It costs an average of GHc17, 253 to repair a cut". He, therefore, explained that millions of Cedis which would have gone to networks expansion or upgrading was rather spent on fibre optic cable repairs.
MTN, Vodafone, Glo and Expresso have their fibre optic back bones, while Airtel and Tigo use privately owned fibre owned by MainOne. A number of these cuts have been traced to road construction, excavation by utility companies, outdoor sign companies, theft and the National Petroleum Authority (NPA) approved activities.
Fibre cables are cables containing one or more optical fibres that are used to carry light. The optical fibre elements are typically individually coated with plastic layers and contained in a protective tube suitable for the environment where the cable will be deployed.
Different types of cable are used for different applications, for example long distance telecom, or providing a high-speed data connection between different parts of a building. Thousand of channels can be multiplexed together over one strand of fibre. The fibre optic network has formed a very important part of the transmission network of every modern telecommunication service provider.
Effects of Fiber Cuts The light is kept in the "core" of the optical fiber by a technology called Total internal Reflection, a Field Services Manager of MTN Ghana, Bernard Avor explained to journalists at a day's forum organised by the JBA and supported by MTN on how to report accurately and effectively on challenges facing the telecom industry.
The three major effects of fibre cuts, according to Mr. Avor are on financial, telecom network and subscribers. On the financial effects, he noted that telecom service providers were losing huge revenue through high cost of fibre cable repairs, frequent replacement of repair tool kits and high cost of fibre optic cable replacement.
Touching on the effects on next work, especially MTN, Mr. Avor mentioned the diminution in the quality of Voice and data services being rendered to subscribers (customers), outright Network outage in area/town/Districts/regions and slow pace of network expansion. Fibre cuts can also lead to bad image, he stated.
Mr Avor was quick to add that low browsing/download speed, high drop call rate, low call set up success rate/congestion, and voice quality degradation ( Clipping Voice) are the key effects of fibre cuts on subscribers. They also have ripple effect on the business community which needs internet connectivity to transact their businesses.
In their last visit to The Chronicle which is about two years, Corporate Services Executive of MTN Ghana, Mrs. Cynthia Lumor told editorial department of the newspaper that the telecom companies always obtained permission from the Ghana Highways Authority (GHA) and other stakeholders before laying the fibre cables.
"We write letter(s) to inform GHA before embarking on the laying of fibre cables. We have engaged the GHA and other stakeholders in a series of workshops, but the situation continues," she lamented. Mrs. Lumor, however, observed that in the past, telecom operators did not explain some of these challenges to their subscribers, but the public need to understand what MTN and other operators were going through.
According to her, fibre cuts internet connectivity, as well as calls and said that despite these challenges, MTN was working hard to provide reliable and quality services to its subscribers.
Investment in new cell sites At the JBA's day forum on fibre cuts recently, Mrs Lumor explained that in a bid to provide 24/7 ubiquitous telecom services, the company would continue to aggressively and significantly invest in new site buildings across the country.
She revealed that MTN added 175 3G sites last year to its existing 1137 3G operational sites, while 120 3G sites were planned for 2014 to further enhanced performance and coverage.
To enhance speed and penetration, she further disclosed that an extensive national fibre and microwave network had been embarked upon by the company, leading to the deployment of 400km of fibre. While metro fibre upgrades to increase access network capacity in metropolitan areas is pursuit religiously by MTN, the Corporate Services Executive said.
Mrs. Lumor assured Ghanaians that the telecom industry giant would continue to increase investments for enhanced ICT performance and penetration in the West African second largest economy.