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African telecoms firms ‘must prioritise security’ as IT network investments advance

Security of telecoms networks needs to become a top priority in Africa as more firms invest in Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology on the continent, according to an IT security specialist.

The Africa regional director of network threat management systems provider Fortinet, Perry Hutton, told IT News Africa: “LTE is changing the playing field. The previous generation of mobile technologies relied on mobile operators’ proprietary infrastructures, so security was not a major concern.”

Hutton said systems to date “were less susceptible to hacking and attack... but with LTE, the traffic uses internet protocol as a transport method, which essentially puts it in the public domain where it is extremely vulnerable.”

Hutton said while a “relatively small percentage of operators” are currently using LTE, “major players have started the ball rolling in many regions” that is expected to see LTE becoming “mainstream” across the continent over the next few years. She said investment in security for more advanced telecoms systems would be needed because “with tens of thousands of customers’ traffic on the network, they can’t take risks.”

The “strong growth” of mobile data connections and services across Africa has been highlighted in new research published by global analysis firm Ovum.

According to Ovum, “the number of mobile subscriptions in Africa continues to grow faster than in any other major world region, with total mobile subscriptions increasing by 9.8% year-on-year to 808 million at end-2013, compared to the global growth rate of 6.3%”.

By the end of the second quarter of 2014, Africa’s mobile subscriptions count had risen to 851 million, said Ovum, which projected that the figure will exceed one billion in 2016 and reach 1.23bn by the end of 2019.

However, Ovum practice leader for the Middle East and Africa Matthew Reed said: “With the rate of growth in mobile subscriptions slowing, the number of mobile subscriptions in Africa will increase by only about 5% year-on-year in 2019, the more significant development within Africa’s mobile market is the growth in mobile data connections and services.”

Reed said: “Ovum’s data shows that despite the remarkable advances made by Africa’s telecoms sector, the continent remains behind most of the rest of the world in terms of its adoption of fast broadband services. Bridging that digital divide should be a high priority for African governments, regulators and the industry, because of the economic, social and commercial benefits that it could bring.”

The African Union’s ‘action plan’ for Africa up to 2015 (104-page / 1.53 MB PDF) said access to advanced information and communications technology (ICT) is critical to the long-term economic and social development” of the continent.

“It has increasingly become essential that appropriate ICT infrastructure, applications and skills are in place and accessible to the population to close the development gap between Africa and the rest of the world,” the plan said.

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