Internet growth accelerating in Africa

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The approximate area that will benefit the most from the upcoming EASSy cable system. Plus Sudan, I think.

You can read the news here. It's too bad that Africa is still treated as a single entity though because it means it takes that much more time to dissect news articles like this one. Does accelerating internet growth mean more internet users in the French-speaking sub-Saharan part, or is it just further development in South Africa / Mauritius / Tunisia / Libya and so on, or is it actual growth in the parts of the continent that are the least developed?

Here's what it says:

"Until recently, the experience of the internet in Africa has been like having to eat a three-course meal by sucking it through a straw: time-consuming, unreliable and expensive. .. [but prices are dropping] and cheap international bandwidth is an essential component for any developing country to remain competitive in a changing world." - Russell Southwood, in Global Information Society Watch 2008

Southwood goes on to note that new undersea cables, two of them due to be completed this year, are predicted to cut international bandwidth prices for some African countries by as much as 90%, and that there will be strong pressure for reducing costs inside countries as well, as well as for finding new ways to bring cheaper connections to neglected rural areas.

Hmm, "some African countries". Luckily Reuters has some more information.

New telecoms infrastructure is set to boost capacity and cut tariffs in Africa this year, unlocking the continent's high-speed Internet potential and creating growth opportunities for operators and equipment firms.

Despite being the fastest-growing telecoms market in the world, Africa's broadband growth has been hamstrung by costly international bandwidth and patchy national infrastructure, impeding development and deterring investors.

But that may be about to change.

U.S.-based advisory firm AfricaNext Investment Research expects Africa's broadband market to grow more than fourfold in five years to 12.7 million users from 2.7 million in 2007.

Okay, where? Page 2 has the answer:

While West Africa already has high-speed Internet connectivity through the SAT-3 cable that loops around the west of the continent, East Africa still relies on dial-up or expensive satellite connections.

But projects worth around $6 billion (four billion pounds), including 10 undersea cables and several national networks, are planned or under construction in Africa, according to South African research firm BMI TechKnowledge.

Mauritius-registered private equity venture SEACOM is planning to commercially launch a fibre-optic undersea cable in June costing more than $650 million, linking east and southern Africa to Europe and Asia.

The EASSy submarine network, owned by African operators including Telkom Kenya and Telkom South Africa, will also loop around east Africa, bringing fast and cheap bandwidth to at least 23 landlocked African countries.

It should be completed by 2010 and will cost $265 million. Alcatel-Lucent is working on the project.

Richard Hurst, telecoms analyst at global telecoms advisory firm IDC, said international bandwidth rates were expected to drop to a fifth or less of current rates of $3,000 per megabit after these two cables are in operation.

EASSy - that brings us to Wikipedia's page on the network, and the following telecommunications companies as participants:

For more information on internet use in Africa by country, see this page. Seychelles and Mauritius have the highest penetration rate, and Liberia and Sierra Leone the lowest. Note that the stats haven't been updated since June of last year though.


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