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Towards focusing research and innovations on local needs: If wireless technologies are to connect the wireless continent

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Abstract: By 2007, only 0.21% of population in Africa was estimated to have subscribed to Internet compared to 28.49% subscriptions of mobile phone lines. Mobile phone penetration rate in developing countries has been more than double the global average for a number of years, whereas broadband subscription hasn’t seen similar explosive growth. This is due to a number of reasons, mainly the lack of fixed lines and cost ineffective connectivity to the Internet based on satellites. Africa is therefore still a wireless continent. This offers an advantage for Africa to easily leapfrog to the newly emerging wireless broadband technologies. In this talk, we shall first present a review of the status of broadband access in Sub-Saharan Africa, and then discuss some unique challenges, absent in the developed world, which should be considered for the emerging technologies to satisfy the local needs. For instance, adoption and large-scale diffusion of WiMAX in developed world will inevitably be hindered by the fact that each residential house is already connected to the Internet by up to 8Mbps. This, in turn, is likely to limit new research and innovations on the technology. In developing countries, however, WiMAX has a potential to revolutionize Internet access. Mobility and mesh supports of WiMAX combined with the already popular mobile voice communications and the existing lack of Internet access are likely to derive huge demands for mobile/wireless Internet access in developing countries that will significantly surpass the demand for WiMAX access in the developed world. To satisfy this demand however, the technology must be properly engineered so that it can scale to accommodate millions of potential users. In particular, there is a need to develop research on protocols, algorithms for scalable high speed mesh networks with self-organizing, self-healing, mobility, efficient handover mechanisms, and QoS guarantees by taking into account the unique challenges that face the continent.

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