The state of bandwidth in Ghana

Given the focus of what I’m doing in the coding of Maneno, I am very concerned as the state of bandwidth and availability of internet in African countries. While traveling through through Accra, Cape Coast, and Kumasi, I had a decent taste of the speed and reliability. I have to say that overall, it is quite good. In the internet cafes, the speed worked out to somewhere around 256 up and 1.5 down. The down was faster at various times, but the up was never much more than 256 as far as I could note.

The only noticeable problem was what I call the “bog effect”. I’m not sure if it was the line or the number of users online at a certain time, but everything would be chirping along fine and it would be like a bucket of cold water was dumped on the connection as everything would suddenly time out. Thirty or so seconds later, everything would come back up and be fine. It’s more of annoyance than it is an actual impediment and I even have this happen every so often on my home connection in the US.

So latent

As stated earlier, there is much more of a latency problem than there is a bandwidth problem. Even when you go farther in to the interior in a place like Kumasi, the speeds are the same as they are on the coast where the cable touches down. Of course, outside of the major towns and cities, connectivity drops off massively. However when inside the towns, the only real barrier to widespread internet access is cost. While paying $0.65 USD an hour to use an internet cafe is quite cheap for me, someone who earns maybe $20 USD a day is going to have a hard time being online. The only free connection I’ve encountered was at Smoothy’s in Accra (where the Ghana blogging meetup is) but you’ll need to have your own laptop to make that happen.

It needs to be noted that when there is a direct correlation between distance from the Atlantic, speed, and cost. For instance, I was told that in a town like Tamale, which is about 2/3 of the way up north, speeds are massively slower and massively more expensive for that slow speed. The issue being that “lovely” Vodaphone bought out the original company phone system of Ghana Telecom and has a monopoly. The backbone of cable running inland gets more and more narrow the further north you go and they have no interest in expanding it.

But in contrast, a town like Takoradi, which is near the western edge of the country on the coast, there are some of the best connections in the country. Why? Oil was discovered there this year and so countless foreign companies are setting up shop to tap in to it. They want to have network access and so bandwidth is getting a huge bump there currently. I heard this from some of the “gang” I met up with in Accra who often find themselves zipping out there for a day to work on support issues and the amount of trips they are making is only increasing.

Taking it home

Home connections are a different issue altogether. Very, very few people have them. The cost is exorbitant and with Vodaphone having bought out the state telecom a short while ago, there has been little care as to whether people can actually afford this or not. The other problem is that the bandwidth is nowhere near as good as for business connections. In fact, from everyone I’ve talked to who has it, it’s insanely slow. It only picks up speed between 02:00 and 05:30. Those who really want to do all their hardcore internet work often stay up until then to do it. Needless to say, the geeks of Ghana are a young group.

In general though, Ghana is in pretty good shape for connectivity and bandwidth even though apparently 70% of it is hogged up by video sharing sited like YouTube (according to some fellows I met in the Busy Internet building.) The only big problems I’ve encountered were ones like last Saturday where apparently the entire link for the country went down and while connectivity within Ghana was fine, anything outside was impossible. That’s obviously going to be an issue when you only have one link with the rest of the world. Just another argument for developers to someday host their local sites locally.

2 Replies to “The state of bandwidth in Ghana”

  1. Hi there bandwidth analyser… As a blogger who also works in the broadband provision industry in Ghana, I have to say that you might be over-simplifying the issues with bandwidth and connectivity in Ghana and in Africa in general.

    Africa is uniquely positioned in that it has no direct link to the Internet backbone and no mature fibre network. This means that for the providers to bring the bulk Internet into a country like Ghana, there is an enormous expense.

    There are two main technologies currently used for doing this – satellite and SAT3 fibre. Satellite is still used in many places (mostly away from the coast, in areas which are quite undeveloped and have no inter-country fibre.) Satellite has an inherent latency of 600ms. and this can go up to over 1sec with congestion. This is why the Internet seems slow in northern towns. Also, to get Internet capacity over satellite into Africa costs a minimum of $5k per Mbps. This then has to be overcontended and sold off to make anywhere near a profit. Hence, as it stands today, there is no easy solution for rural Africa. It simply costs too much.

    With regard to the SAT3 fibre, yes Vodafone has a monopoly but they sell bulk capacity to other providers, who then on-sell to the consumer or to cafes. Again, the cost of the bulk fibre is quite high, and the only way the providers can make a minimal profit it to oversell the bandwidth – some of them oversell to a point where the line becomes unusable. This is what usually happens on residential services, as the price point is too low to be able to sell quality connectivity at reasonable speeds.

  2. Yes, the article was simplified as it was meant to be more general and not delve in to specifics. I’ve worked as an IT director in addition to currently as a web developer, so I could delve in to details that would really bore more people.
    I didn’t delve in to a satellite (which yes, I’ve seen in heavy operation from traveling around Congo) as I didn’t use any WSAT connections in Ghana and I was much more interested in the land connections since they are decently well developed. Sure, they’re oversold, but at least they’re there and it was interesting to see how everything on this site worked over a stable cable connection that had been over-provisioned.

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