The Road To Achieving Internet Access For All In Africa

Governments, the telecoms industry, investors, multilateral institutions, and development finance partners will need to invest over $100 billion over the next ten years in order to provide universal internet coverage across Africa by 2030, a new report by the Broadband for All Working Group reveals. Meanwhile, the African Development Bank estimates that the continent will need investment of between $130 billion and $170 billion every year to achieve widespread internet access. The pressing need for infrastructure development in Africa’s telecom industry is well understood. Fortunately, with the rapid recent development of telecom technology, masts can now be positioned virtually in any location.

Growing demand for internet access

The demand for internet services in sub-Saharan Africa is continually growing. This is largely thanks to the younger generation who are eager to adopt the latest cutting-edge technologies. For example, 24.5 million people have now downloaded M-Pesa, a mobile payment app developed by Safaricom (Kenya’s leading telecom company). This accounts for over 70% of the mobile money market in the country. Additionally, in six different sub-Saharan African countries, adults under thirty years old are most likely to use the internet compared to other demographics, a recent study by Pew Research reveals. Moreover, a large segment of mobile phones in sub-Saharan Africa are already equipped with internet and messaging capabilities. Roughly 40% of the population actually use the internet occasionally (or own a smartphone with internet connectivity). In fact, mobile phones usage is more commonplace than access to electricity. According to the Economist, two-fifths of the population own a mobile phone, while under half have electricity. 

Plans for expansion

Several mobile companies are working on expanding network coverage in Africa, particularly in remote regions. Much of the recent investment in telecom infrastructure across the continent has come from China — in fact, direct investment from China has increased by 40% every year over the past ten years. In particular, Huawei has freshly announced plans to establish a 5G transport network in South Africa in partnership with Rain; they’ll be the first network operator to roll out 5G in the country. Additionally, Western companies like Parallel Wireless and Vanu are also looking to bring internet services to the region. Providing rural communities with reliable access to the internet will eliminate the digital divide that exists in poor and rural communities, and ultimately provide much-needed equal access to essential digital services. E-health, mobile banking, e-education, and video chatting, for example, are only made possible with internet connectivity. For disadvantaged communities, access to the internet equals the ability to access basic healthcare, save, borrow and invest money, and get an education, which collectively results in vital socio-economic development. 

Before universal internet access becomes a reality in all areas of Africa, significant investment will be first needed. Nevertheless, as widespread internet access continues to grow, it will in turn fuel economic growth, raise the standard of living, and create exciting new markets across the continent.  

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