The Ivory Coast has been named Africa’s fastest growing economy, but the digital divide that exists within the country between rural areas and the capital of Abidjan restricts some local digital economies from growing. If improved, connectivity could skyrocket the already fast-growing GDP. Be-Bound recently took a trip where we toured the entire country to get a thorough understanding of the reality of mobile internet access.
Since the country is already a leader in growth, the economic potential would accelerate if the entire population were included. Today, nearly half the Ivorian population in the largely agricultural country lives in poverty. Many are affected by low profits on crops and fluctuating global prices for goods such as cocoa and coffee. According to the World Bank, 27.9% of the population still lives below the poverty line ($1.90/day). Bringing more ICT tools to rural areas would enable farmers to have better access to information and control over crop management, and revenues would improve. Enabling everyone in the country to contribute to the economy in a more productive way would improve efficiency across the board. Since mobile internet networks are what power the modern economy, providing better connectivity is how this can can be achieved. Connectivity for more people will ensure inclusive growth, leading to better outcomes for all.
The Mobile Landscape: Ivory Coast in Numbers
Of the 23 Million people living in the Ivory Coast, 9.6 Million are unique mobile subscribers (as opposed to SIM connections; unique mobile subscribers are single individuals that have subscribed to a mobile service and may hold more than one mobile connections such as SIM cards). There are three mobile network operators (MNOs) in the Ivory Coast (Orange, MTN, Moov) covering 98% of the population. (A breakdown of subscribers under each operator can be found here in French). On paper, the country largely has 2G coverage while a significant portion of urban areas have 3G coverage. Because of the supposed high coverage, a recent GSMA study cites network coverage as the least significant barrier to mobile internet usage within the country.
However, we sent Guillaume Favez, our Head of Deployments, to gather firsthand information about the challenges facing the local economy in relation to connectivity and access to information. He traveled more than 2600 km around the Ivory Coast, running connectivity tests that gave us valuable data and a different perspective on the country’s digital divide than that conveyed by the GSMA report. We found that there is definitely a need to improve the country’s network coverage, and we believe this would greatly improve economic growth in rural areas.
How Be-Bound Tests True Connectivity
Be-Bound has developed a signal tracker that compares standard local connectivity to our own patented Augmented Connectivity. This not only gives us insights into what the average local person experiences with their smartphone, but tells us without a doubt, to what degree Be-Bound’s Augmented Connectivity will be able to improve local connectivity issues.
The phone runs two tests simultaneously and continuously every 5 seconds. On the left (in red), we see results of the local connectivity requests (in this case the word “KO” appears, indicating it is a failed request), and on the right (in blue), we see Be-Bound’s results. The data collected is then retrieved and exportable via an excel file. As you can see in the above image, many requests that are impossible through standard connectivity are made possible thanks to Be-Bound’s Augmented Connectivity (which guarantees seamless connectivity across all networks, from GSM to WiFi for mobile apps and IoT).
Our Connectivity Findings: The Limits of Mobile Networks
After reviewing the GSMA studies on the Ivory Coast mobile network and internet coverage, we expected GSM (the SMS network), to be up and running everywhere we went. As a preliminary sample section, in our travels along the East side of the country, Be-Bound’s tests showed that the networks Edge, H+ and even 4G – which include the GSM network – are available with rare occasions of no network. However, even when the phone marked that network coverage was strong, data was difficult to access.
From a quick analysis of our network coverage results, it would seem that there is no need for GSM because Edge, H+ and 4G appear to be prevalent. So the question is, why would accessing data still be difficult if such a network range were actually available?
“On the first part of my trip, I traveled along the Eastern side of the Ivory Coast, and was manually getting the network signals (4G, 3G, Edge…). After 2 days I analysed the data which had shown internet almost everywhere, even though I had seen that there is actually no working Internet. I concluded the network shown by Android in the top bar (4G/H+…) is misleading because it often shows Internet even if you don’t really have Internet. That is to say, even though your Android is showing a 4G signal, you won’t actually have any internet if the network is broken or saturated. Your Android is not alerting you to the actual quality of that network. The Android shows you only the most basic information: when it shows you a “4G” connection, all that it means is that you are technically connected to a 4G antenna. But just because you are in touch with an antenna doesn’t mean that the internet will actually work, because what actually matters is the quality of that network. So along this Eastern stretch, users cannot access any sort of internet even though they see the 4G marked on their Android.”
Reasons for Poor Network Quality
Whether in a developed or developing country, there are essentially 4 reasons network quality might differ from what your Android phone is showing you.
- Lack of infrastructure (not enough roads, antennas, etc. have been built)
- Saturated network (in football stadiums, shopping malls, crowded areas)
- Imposed limitations by the operator (for budgetary reasons for example)
- Inconsistent network overlap (gaps between covered zones cause gaps in service)
In the Ivory Coast, rural users encounter all of the above issues. Even in small cities of 20,000 inhabitants for example, networks can be saturated if there is only one antenna. The level of infrastructure needs to be in line with the usage needs of the population.
The Be-Bound Team on Location in the Ivory Coast: What We Learned
Even though mobile networks appear available, the reality is that they are overly saturated or simply incompetent in sending requests. This can be explained with the curbed networks due to operators holding onto broadband performance, the lack of infrastructure and network, or limited broadband due to poor reception.
The result is that even the most commonly used apps are not supported in more than a third of the country, with rural areas suffering the most from this lack of connectivity. Through the basic HTTP network, only 31% of requests were successful while 69% failed. With Be-Bound’s technology, the balance completely shifted to a 68% success rate.
This would explain why even though the Ivory Coast has a good Internet penetration rate (26.5%). the internet is still a luxury for most, and too often an inaccessible tool reserved for the wealthy and educated.
The Trip At A Glance: Internet According to Rural Ivorians
Across the country, we spoke directly with locals who shared their thoughts on connectivity and what internet means to them.
In total, we interviewed 30+ ivorians in their local villages, most of them men among which about half were attending or had already attended schools.
What they told us:
- Most people we spoke with knew what the internet is, especially if they had attended school. However, for most, the Internet seemed to be synonymous with Facebook. (The Facebook= Internet phenomenon is actually common in many countries)
- The Ivorians who do have access to the internet use it for
- “meetings, friends and family” (75%)
- “search for information”, “learning” (30%)
- answering what would happen if the Internet disappeared :
- “misfortune”, “lose knowledge”, “would be bad”, “going back in time 1000 years”, “back to the 1960’s”, “sad”, “the Internet is the foundation, so it would be very bad”
There are many reasons that Internet is not accessible to everyone (as seen in the above GSMA report image) but with the success and penetration rate of smartphones, the forecasts are only positive for Be-Bound’s technology to help bring Augmented Connectivity to the farthest reaches, ensuring that growth will be inclusive, leading to a more equitable future for those living in rural areas.