The last decade saw a tremendous boom in ICT in Africa. The key sector is mobile, which continues to grow at astronomical rates. From virtually no mobile phone users in 1999, mobile phone users in Africa will reach 500 million soon. Africa may have double the number of mobile phone users than in the United States within a few years.
In fact, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Africa is the fastest growing mobile market. In 2010, ITU said that Africa’s mobile user growth rate has exceeded 60% annually for the five previous years, double the global average. Africa is, in fact, the first continent where mobile subscribers outstrip fixed-line users.
In the mobile space, Africa leads Western markets with innovative solutions like SMS-based applications and prepaid services.
Mobile payments and banking have taken off in Kenya with Mpesa and M-Kesho. Out of a population of close to 40 million, estimates are that 38% of adult users have M-PESA accounts and that over 7.7 million accounts had been registered as of August 2009, according to the report, „The Economics of M-Pesa
High-Speed Broadband Boom
Broadband is estimated to contribute 1.3% to economic growth for every 10% jump in availability, according to the World Bank.
Unfortunately, this is one area that Africa continued to lag behind Western countries. Only a few years ago, Africa as a whole only had less than one terabit/second capacity. This is dramatically changing with the continent’s connection to international bandwidth expected to reach over 20 terabits/second within the next few years.
There are still two key challenges for the broadband market –
Backhaul is the land-based fiber optic cable lines. The major countries, such as Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya, have worked on this to cover at least the major markets in the country. East Africa did well as a region by connecting major areas throughout each country in the East Africa Community – Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda – and between each country, so the foundation to connect a common market of over 140 million people is there. There is progress with backhaul all over Africa.
The third leg of broadband infrastructure and the toughest challenge is access. This is where people are provided the services and equipment to use the Internet. The rate of people with both computers and Internet access in Africa is extremely low.
Governments, non-profits, and private sector are working to provide access in community labs, internet cafes, schools, and even Mobile labs to rural areas.
Opportunities in ICT in Africa
- Companies to provide the infrastructure
- Companies to provide computer and mobile phone equipment and accessories with configurations that will suit the African consumer and at prices, they can afford.
- Companies to provide training and consulting services, particularly if they are able to work with local partners.
- Companies who can develop mobile, sms, and Internet applications, as well as content, for the local markets.