MainOne, Google, Facebook advocate new investments to drive Africa’s Internet penetration 

• Experts lament underutilisation of Continent’s submarine cables
Piqued by the slow pace of Internet penetration in Africa, MainOne, Google, Facebook, among others have advocated for fresh investments to drive Internet penetration in the region.

They made this call, yesterday in Chicago, USA, at the ongoing International Telecoms Week conference in Chicago.

Relying on statistics from the Internet World Stat, The Guardian checks showed that as at March 31, Africa’s Internet penetration is 27.7 per cent, against World’s average of 49.6 per cent. The rest of the world’s penetration is put at 54 per cent. By the statistics, it showed that more investments are required by the Africans to be able to leapfrog into a digital economy.

Nigeria, the adjudged telecoms market current has 90 million Internet users with 21 per cent broadband penetration.

With the theme: “Achieving A Connected Continent: Leading The Data Explosion Across Africa”, the expert panel session with participation from Google, Facebook, WIOCC, Liquid Telecom and Angola Cables, at the Chigaco conference discussed strategies for achieving improved broadband access across the continent.

Reviewing the state of broadband infrastructure and data traffic trajectories in different countries in Africa and comparing it with the globe, they claimed that areas which investments had been made such as submarine cables, data centres, and access networks including 3G, 4G and Fibre To The Home (FTTH) networks as some of the elements that have accelerated the growth in data traffic on the Continent.

They submitted that data explosion will need to be driven by further investment in local networks to reach more end users rather than new submarine cables.

The session, according to a statement from MainOne, revealed that while most African submarine cable systems had the capability to deliver 100 Gbps wavelengths, Africa has not utilised near enough capacity to saturate those systems.
According to the panellists, for broadband to become more pervasive, there is need for continued investment and innovative business models to aid the rapid deployment of Access networks across the continent.

Facebook’s Regional Head, Africa for Express Wifi, Uche Ofodile, while sharing the company’s experiences working with carriers to jointly make infrastructure investments in Uganda, where it is working with Airtel to deploy fibre backhaul, noted that demand and favourable regulatory environments informed their decisions to invest in the country.

The need to go beyond mobile infrastructure was also highlighted by the Chief Executive Officer of Liquid Telecom, Nic Rudnick, whose company just completed its acquisition of South African operator, Neotel for $429 million. “As consumers in Africa start to use the Internet for content, TV and on-demand services, mobile will have its limitations, not just in terms of technology, but also in price. We need to look at other technologies to achieve cost effectiveness.”

The panellists’ assessment of data centre growth in Africa also indicated that uptake is not as rapid as experienced in other parts of the world and that most of the content consumed in Africa is hosted in Europe.

Sharing their experiences, Data centre operators, MainOne and Liquid, lamented that initial demand on the continent has been driven by enterprises and financial institutions as against other geographies where Over-the-top (OTT) content players are the biggest data centre players.

“We do not see any of these OTTs hosting their services from Africa. We are not seeing meaningful investments coming into Africa (from OTT players) and with the sizeable population of the continent, we need to see them play a larger role in the African ecosystem”, the panel stated.

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