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Can Africa leapfrog the PC?

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South Africa and the rest of the African continent should not just be looking to bridge the digital divide, but instead to leapfrog developed countries by aggressively adopting advanced mobile technologies over the next few years, says SUVEER RAMDHANI, Head of Product Strategy at SEACOM.

Africa has an opportunity to move ahead of the developed world in its adoption of mobile technologies and tablet computing, just as it was at the forefront of cellular telephony adoption.

SEACOM with our mission to build the African Internet is constantly on the watch for changes that could drive growth – talk about ‚’bridging the digital divide’ has become clich√©d and patronising. Africans have access to smart phones and know how to use them. The consumer’s experience with these smart phones is transferable to tablet computers (such as the iPad or Galaxy Tab) and enables a comfortable internet experience suitable for greater multimedia applications. Combine this with the rise of new broadband communications technologies such as long term evolution (LTE) for high-speed mobile connectivity and there is no reason that Africa should not leap straight into the post-PC era.

Conventional thinking about the potential for internet penetration previously only considered the number of PCs, and the literacy levels within a market. With tablets reaching the market at sub-$100 prices they are quickly becoming more accessible to a large segment of the African consumer market. Price is not the only advantage of tablets: they also offer an ease of use that short-circuits the need for traditional PC literacy training. A tablet is a suitable device for typing up a resume, or getting homework done.

The high cost of software licences has also been removed of late with the adoption of cloud services where users can have access to a full suite of services for a modest cost. This means that users can concern themselves with the entertainment, information and services they want to access rather than with the complexity and the cost of a traditional desktop PC. Tablets consume far less space and power, further addressing many of the infrastructure challenges.

Critical in realising this opportunity is affordable access to broadband, and by that I mean true broadband that can supporting streaming Video on Demand, IP Video Calls, and other bandwidth intensive social applications. Operators need to embrace LTE as a next step in the evolution of the continent’s telecommunications industry to move from a constrained world to a world of affordable abundance.

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