internet access in africaIn most developed countries, paper consumption has quickly been reduced as digital resources have offered a more efficient alternative to the traditional pen and paper. However, digital technologies are used neither equally nor to their fullest extent around the world. In many African countries, for example, a 5GB movie could take hours to download. In Singapore, however, that same 5GB movie could be downloaded in less than 12 minutes. As a continent, Africa’s access to high bandwidth internet ranks among some of the lowest compared to the rest of the world. In a growing digital age, it is nearly impossible to thrive when the minimum technological requirements are not met as a continent.

Internet Access in Africa

According to InternetWorldStats, roughly 39% of Africa’s entire population had access to the internet as of December 2019. As of 2019, “17.8% of households in Africa had internet access at home“, and “10.7% of households in Africa had a computer.” These percentages might seem low considering that computer technology is more prevalent than ever before. In Africa, however, high-quality internet access is a luxury many people cannot afford.

Barriers to Internet Access

Affordability is the biggest issue concerning internet access in Africa. Internet access in many African countries is expensive compared to countries outside of the continent. Africa as a whole has the least affordable internet prices on the planet. In the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s annual affordability report for 2019, it stated that “across Africa, the average cost for just 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary.” To put it in perspective, if the average U.S. consumer had to pay 7.12% of his or her average monthly salary for internet access, it would cost nearly $373 per month to access only 1GB of data.


Although the amount of people who have high bandwidth internet access in Africa is low today, numerous organizations are working to close the continent’s digital divide. For instance, an initiative called the Africa Digital Moonshot aims to digitally connect all facets of life in Africa by 2030. Some of the “Moonshot Objectives” include:

  1. Establishing more digital infrastructure

  2. Teaching basic digital skills and literacy

  3. Increasing the amount digital platforms

  4. Making Digital financial services more accessible

  5. Expanding upon digital entrepreneurship

To see this dream come to fruition, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development laid out the first goal for the initiative in a past report: doubling Africa’s broadband connectivity from its current number by 2021. If this is achieved by next year, the plan to implement good quality, universal internet access in Africa by 2030 is on schedule. Although these developments are necessary for improving internet access in Africa, they come with a hefty price tag, since roughly $100 billion is needed to cover numerous implementations (such as infrastructure, legal costs and network management.) Even though the goal hasn’t been achieved yet, internet access rates in Africa are moving in a positive direction. Moreover, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is closer than ever to reaching its Seven 2025 Targets for worldwide, universal high bandwidth internet access.

The Economy and Internet Access

Experts also have stressed the critical role high bandwidth internet access in Africa will have for boosting Africa’s economy in the future. Makhtar Diop, the World Banks’ Vice President for Infrastructure, stated that “the digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda.” He goes on to explain that “broadening internet access means creating millions of job opportunities.” When it comes to job creation, universal internet access not only improves domestic business but it also allows for more participation in marketplaces worldwide. For many Africa countries, e-commerce is heavily underutilized, but installing suitable, accessible internet throughout the continent can make conducting e-commerce internationally a top priority for most African businesses.

Given the positive progress Africa has made over the past 20 years concerning internet access, many are optimistic about the continent’s online presence development for the near future. E-commerce, telehealth, mobile education and many other virtual alternatives are slowly becoming more prevalent throughout Africa. The necessary first steps toward improving internet access in Africa have yielded positive results, and these plans for improving access are only the beginning of the continent’s untapped digital potential.

– Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

Internet of ThingsThe “Internet of Things” (IoT) is the interconnection of ordinary objects and devices through computing devices embedded within them, and it has already transformed the way food, water, energy and aid are distributed in developing countries. Gartner, Inc. estimates that 8.4 billion connected “things” will be in use by the end of 2017, and that number will rise to 20.4 billion by 2020.

In developing countries, IoT technologies have brought increased efficiency and effectiveness to existing processes. For instance, farmers are using remote sensors to monitor moisture levels and soil conditions in the fields to avoid crop failure. Similar sensors are providing remote control of micro-irrigation pumps in India and water pumps in Rwanda, improving the functionality and reducing repair intervals. And in Haiti, healthcare professionals are using “smart” thermometers to better track vaccine delivery and storage.

According to the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development, Nexleaf Analytics in Haiti has developed a way to monitor the “cold chain” delivery of vaccines by tracking refrigerator temperatures. Their ColdTrace system sends SMS alert messages when temperatures rise above or fall below the narrow ranger of ideal storage conditions. The developing world alone uses over 200,000 vaccine refrigerators, and these real-time updates ensure their effectiveness. Governments can use data from the system to divert vaccine deliveries from broken refrigerators and address power supply issues with greater speed.

With more devices going online as a result of the IoT, security and privacy are becoming concerns among businesses and consumers alike. Once a device becomes “smart,” it is vulnerable to cyber attacks from hackers across the globe. Smart thermometers, water pumps and utility and transportation grids can be hijacked and shut down by outside parties, effectively crippling vital processes that have come to rely on virtual infrastructure. Icon Labs has pointed out that the mass-produced nature of IoT computers and sensors makes them an easy target for hackers—if they can break into one, they can replicate that attack across a host of devices.

Meanwhile, the cost of IoT technology remains a barrier to its widespread use, especially in developing nations. Embedding computers into everyday devices is still a fairly new concept, and innovation has yet to bring down the design and manufacturing expenses. Perhaps because of this, Business Insider predicts businesses will be the top adopters of IoT, followed by governments, with consumers bringing up the rear. But the Internet of Things has already transformed vital services and infrastructures in developing nations, and many of its luxuries available in advanced economies may eventually trickle down as innovation reduces costs.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

The Broadband Connectivity Gap: How the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development Is Closing the Connectivity Gap in Developing Nations.Broadband and the World Wide Web as we know it are over 20 years old. The ability to go online, search among multiple URLs (or Uniform Resource Locators) and hyperlinks and find information with a few clicks is a relatively new phenomenon that has changed the world. But still, according to the International Telecommunications Unit (ITU), some 52 percent of the world’s population does not have access to the internet. The broadband connectivity gap arises due to the lack of a broadband connection in developing nations.

In lacking broadband, developing nations are also lacking Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) which enable communities to engage with others around the world. ICTs provide ease of cross-national communication and transfer of information and have been successfully implemented by multiple industries including education and healthcare. A study by Ericsson found that social and economic indicators of a country’s sustainability are closely correlated with ICT maturity, suggesting that investing in ICTs can drive social and economic development worldwide.

In 2010, UNESCO and ITU established the Broadband Commission for Digital Development to “boost the importance of broadband on the international policy agenda”. In 2015, the commission evolved into the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development in response to the U.N.’s inception of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). In recognizing the importance of global broadband connection, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development targets four of the seventeen SDGs (education, gender equality, infrastructure, and partnerships) with the objective to reach these goals by 2030.

The Broadband Commission met on September 17, 2017, in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. In the State of Broadband 2017 Report, the ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao recognized “that accessibility to broadband is increasing with more affordable prices worldwide (but that) by the end of 2017… 3.9 billion people will still not be online and only 17 percent of people in developing countries will be connected.”

While it is projected that 3.58 billion of the global population will be online by the end of 2017 (up from 3.4 billion at the end of 2016) the disparity between developed and developing countries is apparent. Global household connections, for example, display a disparity with “rates varying between 18 percent for Africa and 84.2 percent for Europe in 2017.” But closing the broadband connectivity gap can bring immense benefits to the world: the ITU’s 2017 annual report details that every additional $1 of ICT infrastructure investment could bring a return of $5 in global GDP by 2025.

The developing world accounts for 95 percent of the people facing this coverage gap. In order to address this, the Commission facilitates a discussion between UNESCO countries and leaders across multiple industries on how to achieve global broadband access by 2030. In response to technological advances, the Broadband Commission enforces policy implementation that allows technologies to bring broadband to the benefit of countries experiencing a connectivity gap. Major cities in developing nations are seeing the first effects of broadband because their infrastructure can support it. Of the people who are not currently connected, 1.25 billion live in an area without 3G or 4G mobile coverage. In rural areas with minimal access and insufficient infrastructure, the installation of broadband connectivity is necessary for developing technology to support further connectivity and finding solutions for future installations.

Mobile broadband networks, combined with the capabilities of smartphones, have enabled billions of people around the world to connect to voice and internet services. Now, nearly 50 percent of the world’s population has access to the technology needed to use these mobile networks. Leveraging this existing mobile infrastructure, according to the annual report, is the most cost-efficient way to bring more people online. Since 2010, mobile operators have invested $1.2 trillion in capital expenditure as they look to deploy mobile broadband networks and increase capacity. Much of these expenditures focus on developing the necessary infrastructure in remote areas to address the broadband connectivity gap. Digicel, for example, launched 4G services in Papua New Guinea in 2011 and now provides telecommunication services to nearly 500,000 previously unserved people.

The establishment of coverage in areas seeing a broadband connectivity gap is one thing, but bringing effective ICTs to the global community also requires the necessary speed and connection capabilities to encourage a sustainable user habit and contribute to affordability. Stronger connections to broadband networks support faster speeds and ease of access to the internet, which is where the fixed broadband networks come in. ITU’s annual report highlights two specific satellite technologies that are “challenging conventional assumptions about speed, capacity, and latency.” High-Throughput Satellites (HTS) and Non-Geostationary Orbit Satellites (NGSO) support increased broadband capacity, faster speeds and lower costs for rural, non-connected areas.

HTSs are small satellite devices like balloons or drones that “fly just around 20 to 50 kilometers off the ground and deliver ‘surgically precise’ connectivity to specific locations.” Many established satellite companies like Intelsat, Inmarsat and Eutelsat have already developed connections using HTS technology. NGSOs operate anywhere from 500 to 2,000 kilometers above the earth in clusters that deliver a steady stream of broadband.

Reaching the goal of complete global connectivity by 2030 needs a combination of complementary technologies and policies enforcing their implementation. Notable companies like Facebook and Google have partnered with satellite companies to provide connectivity to some of the hardest to reach areas on the globe. Each new development, partnership and plan of action advance access to broadband for developing countries. These capabilities go further than just providing access to the internet: broadband connections also lend towards developments in maritime research, aviation technologies and energy developments, to name a few. Global connections lead to breakthrough developments in other sectors and will bring developing nations into a new era of invention and close the broadband connectivity gap.

Eliza Gresh

Photo: Flickr