Cameroon Tribune (Yaoundé)

25 July 2014

Cameroon: Disturbing Digital Lateness

Since the completion of work on the Cameroon-Chad pipeline in 2004, an optical fibre backbone facility now exists in Cameroon with the possibility of some 12 landing points or terminals.

The Cameroon Telecommunications, CAMTEL, the pioneer operator of telecommunications in the country, began a project to provide the much-cherished optical fibre throughout the country, given its attendant advantages for the country's drive toward the digital evolution.

Paradoxically, the Republic of Chad which depends on Cameroon for the optical fibre resources, tested their 4G (4th Generation) mobile telephone instruments in N'Djamena recently. The 4G is said to be the most recent technology in the telecommunication world after the 2G and 3G which are slower and less efficient in offering Internet connectivity for the transfer of data in the virtual environment. Some experts say it can take from 100 mega bytes per second (Mb/s) to even over 1 GB/s of information from one end to the other.

The upgrading of the country's digital platform has been so poor that Cameroon is today unfortunately one of only a few countries in Africa left with only two competing mobile operators, MTN and Orange. After various delays, Vietnam's Viettel is expected to launch the third network in September 2014, including Cameroon's first 3G mobile services.

Such a delay has left Cameroon far behind African countries with the same development level and the economic and social consequences of such a low pace in catching up with modern communication trends can only negatively impact the much-cherished economic growth prospects for the country. Fewer business ventures would want to invest in a country that remains virtually inaccessible to modern communication technology as Cameroon that has continued to lag behind.

As an unavoidable development tool, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, on 5 September 2014, led the production of a report on the importance of the Internet in improving the lives of citizens of countries across the globe. The web index, as it is known, claims to be the "most comprehensive effort yet" to measure the impact of the web around the world and how it is changing people's lives.

It ranks countries by how much benefit their citizens derive from the web and how it has transformed areas such as politics, economics and society. It also assesses any barriers a country has to allowing its citizens to access a free and open web, finding that around 30 per cent of countries face some sort of government restriction.

With the reception yesterday 24 July 2014, in Hilton Yaounde by the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Jean Pierre Biyiti bi Essam, of the West African Landing Station (WALS) submarine cable based in Limbi which cost FCFA 14 billion, it should be able to play its role of increasing access to the Internet by 23 per cent. WALS is an Internet entry port through which telecommunication signals transit into a country and the entry of Cameroon into such a prestigious platform cannot but be lauded. Yet, it is common knowledge that the existence of the optical fibre in the country since 2004 has not resulted in the desired ease and fluidity within the sector.

Cameroon has for uncountable reasons remained the poorly served farmer in a vast plantation where there is abundance in virtually everything.

Others have even argued that the existing mobile operators are already offering the 3G facilities. So far so good, but it boils down to the fact that such conclusions are not far from the efforts of two drivers struggling to drive on a single-lane road while watching others comfortably driving on a four-lane superhighway nearby.

The current global trend in Information and Communications Technologies points to the fact that running away from them may just be an ostrich's tactics whereby the head is hidden in the sand while the rest of the body remains exposed. Thus, it can no longer be residual that a country like Chad that depends on Cameroon for the optical fibre should be going into the 4G mobile systems, others thinking of 5G while Cameroon is still uncertain about when the country will move into 3G applications. Such digital lateness is simply disturbing.

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