The African Internet has taken massive strides forward over the past three years, thanks to the massive investments telecommunications operators have made in new terrestrial and submarine cables. However, there is still a lot of hard work to be done before Internet services are accessible and affordable to every person on the continent.
That’s according to Mark Simpson, CEO of SEACOM, reflecting on the state of Africa’s Internet ahead of World Telecommunications Day (17 May 2012). He says that the telecommunications industry has broken many of the bottlenecks to affordable and ubiquitous broadband across the continent.
New submarine cables such as SEACOM have helped to boost the performance of the Internet in many African countries while driving costs down for the end user. SEACOM alone has seen more than 10-fold increases in bandwidth penetration in several of Africa’s most underserved nations, driven by drops in connectivity prices and increases in terrestrial coverage.
3G cellular network technologies have helped to boost connectivity speeds to the end user and new terrestrial networks have helped to extend connectivity from submarine cable landing points into African hinterland, once only covered by expensive satellite. Many challenges still remain, including extending the reach of the international cables into vast African territories that remain underserved, says Simpson.
In this regard, it is encouraging to see governments and private enterprise accelerate the rate of building of terrestrial infrastructure to link undersea cables and major cities across southern and east Africa, especially in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya, he adds.
The next steps should see operators and governments step up investments in joining small and remote towns to the network. Simpson also stresses that African regulators and operators must focus as much on access networks as they are on submarine cables and backhaul connectivity to drive growth. This means that they need to ensure that frequency spectrum is available in a structured manner and regulatory hurdles to the deployment of new networks are removed.
Overall, however, the movements towards building the African Internet are extremely positive. “We are seeing a great deal of interest in leveraging broadband to drive economic growth among African regulators and policymakers. We are also seeing a great deal of innovation and partnerships from private business and the public sector in finding African solutions to African challenges,” says Simpson.
Though it will take several years to develop a fully integrated African Internet, we will see some enormous progress over the next 18 months, Simpson adds. “Broadband is changing lives throughout the continent, bringing with it health, education, financial and government services that help make people more prosperous, empowered and efficient,” concludes Simpson.