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Sierra Leone highlights broadband challenges

As Commonwealth prepares to deploy mobile services, a number of hurdles remain

As CTO Ventures, a commercial subsidiary of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), launched its low-cost "borderless" mobile data roaming service for member states earlier this week, Sierra Leone's information minister highlighted challenges facing broadband implementation in his country and other Commonwealth states.

The Commonwealth, an association of 54 countries around the world, includes emerging economies as well as industrialized nations. The CTO Ventures portfolio of services will initially cover 15 key markets in North America, Asia-Pacific, Europe and Africa, but will later go on to expand to other Commonwealth regions.

The Borderless Commonwealth plan is designed to offer low-cost services to meet the needs of travellers, including Web access and email service, and provide high bandwidth for a variety of office and home applications, security and social networking applications.

However, speaking to delegates at the 9th Annual CTO Forum held in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Sierra Leone Information Minister Ibrahim Kargbo outlined a number of broadband implementation challenges in Sierra Leone and the Commonwealth, ranging from infrastructural development to the availability of relevant equipment.

There is a problem of interoperability of industrial standards between different equipment deployed, Kargbo told meeting participants Monday. Other issues include government policies that stunt the growth of an enabling environment for operators to roll out services, and in developing countries, a lack of a sustainable energy supply to facilitate continuous operations, Kargbo said.

For Sierra Leone, Kargbo mentioned that his government has adjusted some of its policies in an effort to create a "networked society." They include revision of the Telecommunications Act to incorporate contemporary ICT legal and regulatory instruments; liberalization of the country's International and Internet Gateway and other essential facilities; and separation of the Universal Access Development Fund from the National Telecommunications Commission NATCOM, the country's telecom regulatory body.

CTO's mobile data roaming service is designed to improve operations and facilitate transactional business opportunities. CTO Chairman Ekwow Spio-Garbrah said the service will meet CTO member countries' ICT requirements by providing cheap, fast and sustainable telco communication solutions to both business and leisure travellers.

"Moreover, with globalization and the constant need to move from one country to another, this offering will bring much ease and convenience to people looking to stay in touch and avoid communication gaps," Spio-Garbrah said.


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