CHICAGO, Illinois — Africa was down by two, stuck in both a global and domestic digital divide. Most of the broadband in Africa was focused in South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius and Seychelles. In fact, South Africa is still the only African country with bandwidth figures similar to Europe and North America. The vast majority of African countries have less than 20 percent user connection, but this statistic is currently rising.
In 2014, internet penetration rates reached 40 percent globally, 78 percent in developed countries and 32 percent in developing countries. One fifth of Africa’s people will be online by the end of this year, with an increase in mobile broadband growth and a decrease in fixed broadband growth. In Africa, mobile penetration has increased by 18 percent since 2010, making Africa the leader in mobile broadband growth. However, growth outside of the aforementioned African countries remains stagnant.
In response, the European company Orange is stretching out connections to West Africa, having opened up Africa’s first large-capacity IP Point of Presence (PoP) in June. Orange is one of the world’s leading telecommunications operators with the purpose of enhancing connection speeds and reliability. The location of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire was chosen because of a 17,000 km-long cable stretching from Europe to Africa’s west coast. As a result, internet traffic in this area is now growing at an average rate of 41% a year.
“Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a mobile digital revolution with consumers, networks and even media companies waking up the possibilities of 3G and 4G technology,” according to David Smith, an Africa correspondent and writer for The Guardian. By the end of this year, there will be 635 million cheap, mobile smartphone subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa, allowing both the middle-class and inhabitants of remote villages to be mobile.
The impact of mobile phones on Africa is astounding. Only 6% of people use desktops and laptops, while 70% rely on the “lack of physical connectivity and access to reliable electricity” provided by their phones, says Smith. In these areas, Samsung and the Chinese company Huawei are in the highest demand with Nokia following behind them.
Despite these great advances, some African countries are hesitant to jump on the mobile bandwagon. These countries include Niger, Central Africa Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ethiopia and many of Africa’s central landlocked countries.
Even though Africa is crossing great strides in the mobile internet realm, the cost of internet still remains unreasonably high. For broadband access, some customers pay ten times more than those in Europe. “A report recently published by the ITU confirms that the continent is the world’s most expensive place for access to broadband internet connections” says a report on Africa’s Internet divide. Africa is being called the “mobile continent.”
Until a few years ago, the quality of access was not good enough for people to use products, but that is rapidly changing. The internet is improving on the African continent, but many challenges still remain before its people achieve fair, less divided access.
– Ashley Riley