The Global System for Mobile telecommunications Association (GSMA) is worried about the slow pace of Internet connections in Africa. According to GSMA, against the global Internet penetration, which has passed 50 per cent, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) hovers around 24 per cent (about 526.7 million of the about 1.34 billion population).
The body noted that even though a lot of people in SSA are covered by a mobile broadband (MBB) network, they still don’t subscribe to mobile Internet. This is according to Head of Africa, GSMA, Akinwale Goodluck, is not making the continent competitive, and bridging the mobile Internet usage gap remains a significant challenge in the region.
Speaking during a webinar organised by Huawei, focusing on digital infrastructure as the foundation for national prosperity, Goodluck said there is need for value-adding content online and digital literacy of people in the region to improve usage of the Internet. “The biggest task for us as stakeholders in Sub-Saharan Africa now is to bring more and more people online, so that they can participate in the digital economy and then we can see this growth that we are expecting the Internet will provide for us in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“We’ve still got a relatively big coverage gap across the region but we are seeing operators supported by OEMs like Huawei and Ericsson beginning to develop more and more rurally sensitive solutions in terms of costs, technology and ability rollout, which is beginning to impact mobile broadband across rural areas,” he stated.
Goodluck noted that effective utilisation of broadband services require the use of capable devices such as smartphone, tablets, PCs, among others. He pointed out that the cost of these devices is typically higher than what a large segment of the population can afford.
According to him, GSMA Intelligence has discovered that infrastructure and availability of locally relevant content/services led to the highest improvements in Internet adoption between 2017 and 2018 on the back of significant investments in 3G and 4G network expansion.
“Finding relevant content that will be compelling enough for people to come online is one of the greatest barriers to digital inclusion. Some people cannot afford to come online only for entertainment.” They need to get content that adds value and is socially relevant for them to come online. This can be achieved through collaboration between the government and mobile network operators,” Goodluck added.
The GSMA Intelligence showed that 62 per cent of the over 800 million people across SSA don’t use the mobile Internet covered by a MBB network. According to Goodluck, this highlights that the problem is not necessarily coverage but that there are barriers stopping people from going online, which need to be addressed.
While barriers like digital literacy, affordability of devices and data bundles, security and coverage exist, he noted that what has become clear now is that there is a lack of relevance for a lot of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This problem also exists in developed markets for older demographics, as noted by the GSMA. He explained: “Music and video are big drivers for internet adoption and data growth traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the reality is there needs to be a compelling proposition for a lot of people in the region to come online.
“People see no reason to invest in a data bundle. Because of poverty levels, people will only invest money in what will drive economic wellbeing and if they don’t see that proposition on the internet, then they are not going to go online. “It is on all stakeholders to find that sweet spot for people in Sub-Saharan Africa – what does he or she require? What are the benefits they would like to see and how do we bring them online?”
Turning to the adoption of 4G in Sub-Saharan Africa, Goodluck said aside from South Africa, which is at 23 per cent, other countries in Africa are below 10 per cent, while the average for the region stands at about seven per cent. This, he said, means there is capacity on the ground but there is no throughput. “We are building 10-lane highways but we are only riding bicycles on those highways. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of addressing challenges and barriers to 4G adoption.”
He continued that by the end of 2019, 3G connections, for the first time, overtook 2G. “This is a good indicator that more and more people are becoming Internet-aware and we envisage that by 2023, even 4G connections would have outstripped 3G connections.”