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How Africa will connect to the digital economy

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BYRON CLATTERBUCK, CEO at SEACOM, says there are two major focuses for telecoms players for the next few years: improving links to landlocked countries that don’t have access to international bandwidth, and facilitating the hosting and creation of content.

Since 2009, the African telecoms industry has come a long way in connecting people and businesses to reliable, affordable and fast Internet services. The new submarine cables that started to land off the continent’s east and west coasts from 2009 onwards brought with them more affordable and plentiful international bandwidth. They now circle the continent, offering a reliable and resilient ring of connectivity at faster and faster speeds.

Meanwhile, telecoms players have also invested in connecting metropolitan areas in most major economies with fibre as well as in building national and regional fibre backbones to connect towns and cities to the Internet. We’re also seeing the industry make investments in more fibre to the home and business as well as LTE/4G in many of the larger cities. This offers telecoms users seamless and fast connectivity, as well as a more consistent quality of service.

The effect on many African economies and people has been nothing short of transformative. In many countries, connectivity costs have fallen by a factor of ten and the quality of the Internet experience has dramatically improved for people across the continent. The result is that organisations and consumers have been able to put the Internet to work in powerful ways that helps drive growth while reducing costs.

Two focuses for the future

Against that backdrop, there are two major focuses for telecoms players for the next few years: improving links to predominantly landlocked countries that don’t yet have access to affordable international bandwidth, and facilitating the hosting and creation of content at open and neutral data centres within African countries.

When it comes to the first point, we’ll see innovative partnerships between governments, the private sector and multilateral financing institutions to help the smaller and landlocked countries that risk falling behind the rest of the continent. According to the World Bank, there are many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa with less than 2.5 Internet users per 100 people.

By contrast, Kenya has 43 Internet users per 100 people and South Africa has 49 per 100. Thus, the digital divide is no longer just between Africa and the wealthier economies off-continent, but also between the leading and lagging countries in terms of their access to quality connectivity.

Building terrestrial fibre networks to connect towns and cities with each other, as well as to neighbouring countries and undersea cables, is challenging because of the sheer cost and long payback period involved. The road forward is for governments to work with neighbouring countries, the telecoms industry, and multilateral financing institutions to pool resources and drive efficiency in how those resources get deployed.

Private telecoms operators, like SEACOM, have been driving expansion from the cable stations of key high-speed international subsea cables to more landlocked countries and to the borders of landlocked countries, where regulations often block new private operators from entry. The pace of this is accelerating as more governments recognise that liberalisation, clear regulations, and competition drive Internet growth and the benefits associated with access to quality high-speed Internet.

From consumers to creators

As for hosting more content in Africa, the growing choice of reliable, carrier-neutral, data centres, open peering exchanges, content data networks and cloud ICT infrastructure are quickly changing market dynamics. More and more multinational telcos and Internet companies are now providing their content from within Africa’s borders.

User-generated content and collaboration, especially video, are growing as people flock to Facebook, YouTube, Skype and so on, to share and communicate. As the end-user experience on the web improves, local content proliferates and people become content creators and drivers rather than mere consumers.

We’re also seeing a heavy emphasis on the enterprise market from hosting and cloud companies in Africa, all looking to host locally so as to improve the user experience of cloud-based applications for business users. African enterprises tend to want cloud services hosted in their own countries because laws and regulations in many countries demand that sensitive corporate data be stored within the nation’s borders rather than offshore, and because they want the best possible performance and lowest latency.

The future comes to fruition

We’ve been talking about the cloud, video-on-demand and many other concepts for years, but Africa didn’t have the infrastructure to support these services. Now it’s finally coming to fruition because market deregulation, growing competition and end-user demand in most parts of Africa have forced content, application and infrastructure providers to speed up the deployment of new offerings.

We can expect significant social and economic benefits to follow in the wake of closer digital integration across Africa. Businesses will be able to become more efficient and more integrated with the rest of the world, thanks to the cloud. Governments will be able to deliver richer electronic services – for example, health and education – to their citizens. And for consumers, social media, video streaming, and other rich media services will quickly become a part of everyday life.

Africa News

Africa gets broadband boost

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ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.

Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.

Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.

ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.

At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”

Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”

ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.

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Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world

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Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.

AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.

The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.

‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”

The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.

‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.

The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”

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