Africa is experiencing rapid growth in mobile telephony, but is still one of the world’s most unconnected continents.
For Africa, it is estimated that if the Internet took hold on a much larger scale in the coming decade, it could potentially add $300 billion to the contintent’s GDP , specifically impacting 6 key sectors: financial, educational, agricultural, health, retail, and government.
While many Africans are accessing the Internet, and pushing for higher Internet penetration, why are so many still offline? The reasons for Africa are the same as they are around the world. The primary barriers to Internet adoption everywhere are: affordability, poor infrastructure and relevance. To understand these barriers and how they affect Africa, let’s take a closer look.
A Focus on Africa’s Connectivity
Affordability and Poor Infrastructure
Affordability isn’t just about the cost of a phone, or a data plan (which are huge factors by the way). For example, in Africa, charging a cell phone would be a lot more affordable if more people were living with easy access to electricity, but 80% of the African population lives without grid electricity, and 40% of Africa’s population is largely rural. Add to that, low living wages, and you start to see the complexity of the situation. If you were living in the same conditions, the importance of the internet would naturally come into question. Would it be worth traveling 15km or more just to charge your phone? Living on such a small budget, what income would you be willing to sacrifice in the time lost traveling just to charge your phone?
All this weaves us into understanding why urbanization has such a high correlation to penetration. Countries with higher rural populations have lower internet penetration. The fact that infrastructure is lacking often makes affordability nearly impossible. These factors then go hand-in-hand with education and economic opportunity, and the cyclic pattern emerges.
Those living in rural areas of Africa are also facing obstacles such as lack of water, health care, and education. So it naturally puts into question the importance of Internet when there are bigger issues at hand. This might be why in 2012, 50% of people in South Africa didn’t know what Internet was, and these statistics do not change quickly. The 2014 report State of Connectivity: A Report on Global Internet Access, notes that in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 5.1% of the population is considered to have relevant content. Additionally, English remains the primary language of the Internet, making the internet unquestionably irrelevant to people who need content in their own language. Local content is needed not simply to make Internet interesting, but it’s an important factor in preserving local cultures. The conclusion is that more Africans need to create content for Africans.
The importance of increasing internet penetration really can’t be overstated. We saw evidence of what a difference internet penetration can do for a population when Ebola hit Africa in 2014. Out of the 3 countries seriously hit (Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Guinea), the World Health Center declared Nigeria free of the disease long before the others, and the speed of Nigeria’s recovery is largely attributed to the enhanced communications that were in place (51.1% Internet penetration).
The Internet, when accessible, has already greatly impacted Africa. Successful startups have already grown out of Africa (see Africa Internet Group, Africa’s first billion dollar tech firm, for example). African innovation is a concept that is taken seriously. The World Economic Forum has suggested that Africa might be leading the innovation revolution, and the Wall Street Journal has suggested that the next Mark Zuckerberg could be African. We cannot underestimate the potential of Africa’s growing digital ecosystem.
The percentage of people who live within range of a 2G network in Middle East & North Africa is 93.2%, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, this number is 80%. Be-Bound’s compression technology works to compresses Internet data onto the SMS network. This is why we are convinced we can and must connect Africa, and we can do this at an affordable price. We’re also opening our technology so that local developers can create local content.
When Be-Bound set out to bring our mobile connectivity technology to other countries, we went directly to Africa to launch Be-Djezzy in Algeria, with the operator Djezzy. We are now entering more countries across Africa, and have recently partnered with Halotel in Tanzania, an operator in its early stages of development. This is an ideal partnership because Halotel is also entering the African market, so we expect Be-Bound and Halotel to grow their presence together in Africa. As a next step, we are going to discuss possibilities with operators for the rest of the continent at the NG Telecoms Summit in South Africa. This is a conference taking place April 12th-14th with the specific intention of connecting Mobile Network Operators from across Africa to businesses that can offer new solutions.
Internet changes everything: Ghana
A perspective on Internet in Ghana is seen here in a video put together by Internet Society: