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Internet Penetration In Sub Saharan Africa

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Internet Penetration In Sub Saharan Africa: Expanding network connectivity across sub-Saharan Africa will open up digital services that many of us now take for granted. Mobile Banking, Whatsapp Chatting and video, e-health, e-education are key services only possible with reliable internet connectivity.

For a geographically disparate population, it will mean greater access to essential services, including e-agri services. There are hugely populous cities in sub-Saharan Africa. Lagos in Nigeria is one of the fastest growing cities in the world but even in the center on Victoria Island, the internet connection can be patchy and face frequent outages.


For those populations, access to the internet means being able to save, invest and borrow money, getting an education, having access to basic healthcare, and being able to trade with bigger markets; are all fundamental to socioeconomic advancement. That has been a powerful force fueling economic growth over the past century across Europe, North America and Asia.

The Demand Is There

There is a lot of pent-up demand for internet services in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, a substantial portion of mobile phones have internet and messaging capabilities. Mobile usage in sub-Saharan is more widespread than electricity – in 2016, The Economist found that while less than half the population has access to electricity, two-fifths own a mobile phone.

In a Pew Research survey of six sub-Saharan Africa countries, a median of 41% used the internet occasionally or had access to an internet-capable smartphone that compares to 89% of Americans. Digital innovations have also taken off quickly in sub-Saharan Africa, partly because the younger demographic is more ready for adoption of new technologies.

Compared to aging populations in developed countries, the median age in Africa is 19.2 years old. In a study by Pew Research, it notes that adults younger than 30 in six sub-Saharan African countries are more likely to use the Internet, echoing trends seen elsewhere.

We’ve seen this in the quick adoption of digital technologies. Safaricom, Kenya’s largest telecom operator, has seen widespread adoption of its mobile payment app, M-Pesa, since it was launched in 2007.

The app now has 24.5 million users, representing over 70% of the mobile money market in Kenya, and can be used to send and receive funds via SMS without having
a bank account.

The Supply Is Growing, But Still Faces Bottlenecks

There are a number of mobile carriers now seeking to expand network coverage in Africa, especially in rural areas. Governments are pushing for these infrastructure roll outs as they recognize that communications and renewable energy are two key tenets of development for their countries.

Telecom technology over the past decade has advanced significantly, with specialized product development to address the needs of rural telecom particularly in terms of the off-grid renewable energy, resilience to extreme temperatures, and software driven base stations meaning that masts can placed almost anywhere.

The wider need for infrastructure development in telecom and renewable energy is well recognized. The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that the continent of Africa will need investment of at least US$130 billion to $170 billion annually.

In recent years, the majority of that capital investment into African infrastructure has come from China. Foreign direct investment from China has grown 40% annually over the past decade, and it could be even higher, dwarfing investment from other economic partners, including the U.S.

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