Nearly 63 percent of people living in Africa lack internet access. In contrast, 11 percent of North Americans, 13 percent of Europeans and 48 percent of Asians lack internet access. In response to this issue, Africa50, an infrastructure investment organization, has launched an innovation challenge asking for modern innovators to submit their original ideas on how to provide internet to under-served areas in Africa.

The Africa50 Innovation Challenge began May 14, after it was announced at the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, Rwanda the same month.

The submitted solutions will be piloted in Rwanda, which Africa50 CEO Alain Ebobissé said was the ideal place to implement and test the solutions.

Rwanda: A Country Evolving in ICT

Ebobissé described the country as having a thriving Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) sector. Cooperation between the challenge and the co-development of the Kigali Innovation City, a project Africa50 invested $400 million in 2018, is evidence of this ICT boom.

Rwanda has increased its internet access to 29 percent, as of 2019. The increase is a marked improvement compared to the less than 1 percent who had access in 2000. This development can, in part, be accredited to the National Information Communication Infrastructure (NICI) policy the country adopted in 2000.

The policy defines four separate stages of increasing internet and communication in Rwanda. The country has already prepared the ICT groundwork and is currently in the fourth and final stage; enhancing the infrastructure and improving the service delivery.

The goal of the final stage is to increase technological skills, develop the community and private sector and enhance the government’s use of the internet and cyber-security. The policy is planned to end in 2020.

The ideas will be implemented more broadly across the continent once the pilot phase in Rwanda is complete.

Winning Criteria and Perks

The judges will be looking for six main criteria in the proposals submitted to the Africa50 Innovation Challenge:

  • Innovation and originality
  • Ability to be implemented on a large scale
  • Affordability for both implementors and consumers
  • Sustainability for the environment
  • Readiness to be piloted in Rwanda
  • Adaptability of the solution for a variety of circumstances

The finalists will be announced mid-October and they will present their solutions at AfricaCom the following month.  Those selected will be announced at the 2020 Transform Africa Summit, but the organization does not specify how many winners will be chosen.

The winners will be awarded a cash prize or project development funding, connections to investors and exposure as an innovator.

If these solutions are implemented, economic growth and job creation are a few of the newfound benefits that may come to these countries. Companies can grow and have an improved role in the competitive market if they have access to the internet.  As a result, these solutions allow them to reach more consumers, labor pools and raw materials, according to a 2012 report by the International Telecommunication Union.

ICT Progress in Other African Countries

There will certainly be interesting proposals from this year’s Africa50 Innovation Challenge entries,  but there are already solutions that have worked in other African countries.

For example, Kenya has had a considerable jump in their internet speed and bandwidth — which increased 43 percent from 2016 to 2017. This increase can be attributed to the National Broadband Strategy for Kenya. Additionally, Nigeria has increased its number of internet users from 72 million in 2017, to 92 million in 2018.

Nigeria’s fiber network, 21st Century, is partnering with Google Station and anticipates the installation of 200 Wi-Fi hotspots by the end of 2019, according to Fortune.

Africa50 aims to spread high-speed internet and improve opportunities for those living in under-served communities, whatever the solution.

– Makenna Hall
Photo: Flickr

Google launched Wi-Fi in Uganda for the first time as part of a project to broaden access to affordable high-speed Internet.

Google is making the wireless network available to local Internet providers, who can then charge customers for access. Wi-Fi is now available in 120 key locations in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

According to statistics, Uganda has nearly 8.5 million Internet users, which makes up 23 percent of the population.

The use of smartphones has dramatically increased in Africa, but high-speed Internet access continues to be too expensive for many Africans to enjoy. Google is working to make access to high-speed Internet affordable for them.

Google estimates that one day of unlimited data using the network will cost around 1,000 Ugandan shillings, the equivalent of 30 cents in the United States, but local providers will ultimately decide how much they want to charge customers for access to the network.

Google said they hope that by improving Internet capacity in the city, local companies will be able to offer faster broadband access for cheaper.

Ugandans would like to see Internet access in rural and hard to reach areas as well.

So far, Google has laid 500 miles of cables in Uganda in order to establish a fiber-optic network. They are working on a more expansive project to improve web infrastructure in Africa.

There are plans to expand the project to the Ghanaian cities of Accra, Tema and Kumasi.

Facebook and Microsoft are also working on their own projects in developing countries with hopes that the whole world will soon have access to Internet.

Tech Times said they believe the more connected countries are, the better the world could be. Google is working to do its part to ensure more places around the globe have Internet access. Wi-Fi in Uganda is just the start of what the company said they hope to achieve.

Jordan Connell

Sources: AllAfrica, BBC News, Tech Times  
Photo: Flickr


Global mobile carrier, Orange, has just launched the world’s cheapest smartphone. By doing so, they have opened up countless potential opportunities for low-income individuals and their families.

The new device is called Klif and runs on Mozilla’s Firefox 2.0 mobile operating system. Retail has been set at $34, or the equivalent exchange rate in countries where American dollars are not used. Features of Klif include a two megapixel camera, Firefox web browser, an FM radio and full Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth integration.

While smartphones are readily available to Africa’s upper and middle classes, those in lower income brackets are typically unable to afford the devices, let alone the sky-high data plans required to run them. Klif includes a data, text and voice plan, and can be run immediately after activation.

Klif marks a key milestone in the greater tech revolution already occurring across Africa. The device allows for thousands to afford Internet access, and increased connectivity has been shown to increase economic income and output. It also allows for thousands to now contact friends and family in a moment’s notice.

With smartphones and certain apps, farmers can check the weather, nurses and doctors can receive patient updates and students can supplement their learning. As Orange expands its network, even more people will be able to reap the benefits of increased data access.

Orange has released Klif in 13 countries across Africa and the Middle East, with the hopes to enter more markets in the near future.

Executive Vice President of Connected Objects and Partnerships for Orange, Yves Maitre, said of Klif, “By scooping up all the costs into one, incredibly priced digital offer, we hope that critical access to the mobile internet and all the opportunities that that opens up, will be within reach of many more people.”

With Klif and increased mobile access in general, developing countries have more potential to catch up with the top nations of the world.

Joe Kitaj

Sources: CNET, It News Africa
Photo: Wired

How Digital Infrastructure is Supporting the Digital Revolution in Africa
The spread of mobile technology and the Internet to the developing world has been well covered. More and more people acquire mobile phones and gain access to the Internet every day. But what drives this spread of technology?

While technology like this cannot be substituted for better infrastructure in other areas like healthcare, transportation and finances, it can connect and catalyze economic development. Mobile phones allow for farmers to stay up to date on crop prices and broadband has allowed the Kenyan capital Nairobi to become a hub for IT services and call centers.

A study by the World Bank found that if a 10 percent increase in mobile phone adoption took place, a developing nation’s GDP per capita would increase by 0.8 percent. The spread of broadband in a developing country raises this number to 1.3 percent. According to Christine Zhen-Wei Qiang, the author of a World Bank report on the role of information and communication technology (ICT), mobile technology has the potential to change the lives of many in the developing world: “The mobile platform is emerging as the single most powerful way to extend economic opportunities and key services to millions of people.”

Behind this explosion of digital media, mobile money payments, smartphones and Internet is the infrastructure that makes it all possible. East Africa is an excellent example of the importance of infrastructure for the spread of the digital revolution.

In 2010, three fiber optic cables were installed sub-sea. This ensured that East Africa was no longer the only place on the planet without “super-fast” broadband. Rwanda has also used a fiber-optic tech, putting in a 3,200 km network that connects up to 230 government offices across the country.

To go along with broadband progress in the region, Zambia announced back in April that it would invest $65 million in building new telecom towers that can be used by the country’s three major mobile companies. While fiber-optic is important, most people in Africa get their Internet via their mobile phones, which is why these new telecom towers are so important in Zambia.

The number of mobile users in Zambia is around 10 million, a number that lags behind other countries like Uganda and Kenya. The Zambian government hopes that the new towers will increase subscribers and connectivity. The country’s president, Edgar Lungu, said, “Once implemented, the project will reduce the problems of telephone and Internet connectivity in the country.”

Communications infrastructure is extremely important for countries in the developing world. Without strong infrastructure for mobile and broadband technology, which have essentially become prerequisites for business, countries cannot advance in the global economy.

The benefits of investing in the infrastructure are clear. As most of East Africa’s population – 120 million – lives in rural areas, mobile phones are their key to the Internet. Telecom infrastructure enables countries to get ahead in a way by promoting communication through mobile technology.

Today, mobile phones are the first choice for communication and research. Farmers can gather information on seeds and fertilizers, as well as cooperate with other farmers in their area. The infrastructure also incubates international trade. With more investment will come more benefits in the region.

Gregory Baker

Sources: Vodafone, PC World

AngonixA platform for neutral Internet traffic exchange was set up in Luanda, the capital of Angola. It is called Angonix and it is meant to help serve all Internet users with improved content viewing by structuring a better connection with global networks and content providers. With a previously less optimal experience in Angola, Angonix will expand Internet usage to the South African Development Community and elsewhere.

Angonix will change the connection performance. Content delivered by outside sources had provided minimal performance and high latency. The main goal of Angonix is to ensure every member connected to the platform will have low latency and improved content.

Angonix is operated by Angola Cables, who also oversee the connectivity of Angola with the world’s undersea fibre-optic cables. With Angonix, quality service to content will enable the progression of African Internet outreach and global connection. Places in Africa, such as Zambia, still rely on satellite Internet connectivity, which is ultimately unreliable.

Launched March 16, 2015, the expected traffic has enhanced quality content especially in exchanging information between clients and providers. In the past, local clients had to travel some distance to interconnect. This was thanks to configuration problems of network providers.

Working to minimize that distance, providers will have easy access in communicating with clients and vice versa. This development is meant to dramatically change the African Internet landscape. It’s been designed to reach beyond Angola and to help provide low latency between Africa, East Asia and the Americas.

iHub is an online and offline community that hosts a place for 50 companies to connect to clients and has held 500 events. It is a space for online developers working with technology software and is a very well known site in Africa.
Sites like this need to be able to connect elsewhere on the continent. Governments are currently struggling with net neutrality debates and whether or not laws should be in place to support investments that connect rural Africa to enabled environments.

Fibre-optic cables are still needed in South Africa to improve Internet access and link those citizens to the world. The problem is that homes and businesses cannot connect.

Rural Africa is the untapped market. Lesser-developed regions such as Somalia had 200 users in 2000, but 163,185 users in 2014 with a population of 10 million. The Congo Democratic Republic had 500 users in 2000, but 1.7 million users in 2014 with a population of 77 million.

The Communication Commission of Kenya reported 330 thousand mobile users in 2001, and 30 million in 2013. The Angola population had 30 thousand people using the Internet in the year 2000, and 4 million in 2014 with a population of 19 million. Kenya had 200 thousand Internet users in 2000, but 21 million users in 2014 with a population of 45 million.

In sub-Saharan Africa there are over 754 million connections and over 35 mobile networks operators. An SMS-based banking system called M-Pesa in Kenya transfers $24 million daily. Zimbabwe’s EcoCash signed up 2.3 million people in more than a year, after starting in 2011. More than a million accounts push $200 million through EcoCash monthly.

Yet, the continent produces less than one Terabits per second. Angola produces 20 gigabits per second. The demand of improved, constant Internet access is supposed to raise Terabit per second to 10 by 2020, according to TeleGeography.

Projects like West African Cables Systems and South Africa Cable Systems improve connectivity as Angonix improves capacity services. With this, better quality increases capacity of performance, communication and outreach.

The Southern African Development Community has advanced its Internet market. The opportunity for expansion and innovation comes from this improvement. Angola Cables is working to better the growth of Africa with its new technologies in providing services. By improving outreach to the World Wide Web Africa’s communication and business, practices will continue to enhance and expand to rural areas.

– Katie Groe

Sources: IT News Africa, Angola Cables, Angonix 1, Angonix 2, UN, Internet Word Stats
Photo: Africa 21

In any major city in the United States today, people have easy wireless access to the Internet on smartphones. This is a luxury that many Americans do not even realize they have, and it is something that is just beginning to be offered in some of the largest cities in Africa, like Lagos, Nigeria.

Airtel, a telecommunications company headquartered in New Delhi, India, launched a Wi-Fi service to bring Internet access to Lagos that will allow people to access the Internet in public through their smartphones, laptops or any device with access to data services.

This is a groundbreaking change for Lagos. Anyone can use the service, regardless of what network they subscribe to. Now, unlike ever before, Nigerians will have public high speed internet access in Lagos.

Hotspots have already been set up in Ozone Cinema, Yaba, Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island and Alausa Shopping Mall. But Airtel plans to expand beyond this to more malls, and also airports and universities all over Nigeria.

The new Wi-Fi access will supposedly help to decrease the digital divide: the lack of access to Internet and technology in impoverished regions as well as the lack of skills to use technology. This is an acute issue in Africa: in 2013, according to World Bank, only 38 out of 100 Nigerians were Internet users. In 2013 in the United States, 84 of 100 people were internet users.

However, because of the price of the Airtel service, wireless data access may not reach the poorest populations of Nigerians in Lagos, the populations where the lack of smart technology and access to internet is felt most acutely.

Airtel spokesperson, Maurice Newa, explained how the service works. “The bundles can be purchased using Airtel recharge cards and debit cards while Airtel subscribers can buy bundles with their airtime. The service, which is also aimed at promoting the use of Internet, will provide customers wider opportunities to connect with friends, family and business associates.” Customers purchase data bundles by time (30 minutes, 1, 2, 3, or 5 hours).

It seems fairly simple and cheap from an American perspective. To purchase 30 days of 1 GB smartphone usage with Airtel is 2,000 Nigerian Naira, or about 10 American dollars. The United States’ GDP per capita in 2013 was 53,042— so this service amounts to only a tiny fraction of the average American income.

For the average Nigerian, whose GDP per capital in 2013 was 3,005.5 USD, 30 days of 1 GB of data is slightly expensive, but maybe doable. But for vast amounts of Lagos citizens who are below average, who live below the poverty line on less than one dollar per day, this service is most likely impossible to afford. And, these impoverished sects most likely do not own the smart technology to even be able to take advantage of wireless data.

Airtel says it will offer 15 minutes of free data usage each month. Consider the hours the average American spends scrolling through FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram, news apps and more in just one day, and 15 minutes amounts to very little.

Maurice Newa, the chief commercial officer of Airtel Nigeria, believes the initiative will strengthen Airtel’s relationship with its customers. “This service is designed to delight our customers with ultra-high speed internet service. We want to connect with them in smarter and rewarding ways, to fulfil their communication needs. Our mission is to enrich the lives of Nigerians through the provision of exceptional experience and the introduction of this service is an attestation of our commitment.”

In 1999 when communication technology was much less integrated in day to day life, UN secretary general Kofi Annan pointed out how access to communication technology is a fundamental human right, and the digital divide is a dire issue that needs to be addressed globally.

Bringing internet access to Lagos will allow people to connect and no longer be cut off from basic communication. “The capacity to receive, download and share information through electronic networks, the freedom to communicate freely across national boundaries – these must become realities for all people. These people lack many things: jobs, shelter, food, health care and drinkable water. Today, being cut off from basic telecommunications services is a hardship almost as acute as these other deprivations, and may indeed reduce the chances of finding remedies to them.”

– Margaret Mary Anderson

Sources: Airtel, All Africa, IT News Africa, Gunkel Web, World Bank
Photo: Naija 247 News

Internet in Africa-TBPWhile most members of developing nations have access to the Internet in their homes, in their workplaces and in various public locations, many Africans struggle to access the Internet. Here are 10 facts about the progress and struggles regarding Internet in Africa:

1. In October 2007, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) held the first part of its Connect the World series in Kigali, Rwanda to demonstrate its commitment to foster development of telecommunications across Africa, a key aspect of the Millennium Development Goals.

2. As a continent, Africa has seen steady growth in Internet penetration since its rate of .78 percent in 2000. Internet has now reached 20.7 percent of Africa, but there are major disparities in Internet access and use across the continent.

3. The leading countries with the highest Internet penetration rates are Morocco at 56 percent, Egypt at 50 percent and South Africa at 49.8 percent. Meanwhile, various nations throughout the continent are still at rates below 2 percent. Despite these differences, all African nations have experienced Internet growth in recent years.

4. The majority of African countries have Internet penetration rates below 10 percent, which is well below the 20 percent benchmark rate determined for Internet access to benefit countries economically.

5. A total of 10.7 percent of African households have Internet access. Meanwhile, almost half of African Internet users access the Internet via mobile device. Social media usage accounts for about a third of Internet use for these users.

6. Bandwidth is significantly more scarce across Africa than in developing nations, making Internet access much more expensive across the continent. In recent years, increased investment in infrastructure such as national landing stations has allowed some bandwidth expansion, therefore slightly increasing capacity for connectivity.

7. According to Kojo Boakye, policy manager of the Alliance for Affordable Internet, no developing countries have met the ITU’s affordability benchmark of connectivity costing less than 5 percent of monthly income for the world’s potential users that survive on less than two dollars per day. He said that, for many countries in Africa, the cost of fixed broadband comprises almost half of an average citizen’s monthly income.

8. Internet users in Africa pay up to 40 times more for access than users in developed countries. There are many initiatives in place to decrease these rates, but there has been substantial difficulty in implementation. One of these goals involves establishing at least one Internet eXchange Point (IXP) in every African nation in order to promote the construction of infrastructure that makes Internet access cheaper and faster. Another initiative is in place to migrate from analog to digital broadcasting in order to free up unused spectrum, thus increasing access opportunities. However, by June 2014, only 19 countries had begun this transition and only three had completely transitioned. Another initiative is to accelerate adoption of IPv6, which ensures enough availability of IP addresses to allow anything capable of having an IP address to connect to the Internet. South Africa and Egypt account for 97 percent of all of the IPv6 addresses in the continent, which indicates major lagging for the rest of Africa. This development is seen as necessary for long term expansion of Internet.

9. The Internet contributes 1.1 percent to the overall African GDP, which is substantially lower than the global average contribution of over 4 percent. There are large disparities across the continent, with the contribution to GDP being 3.3 percent in Senegal and .8 percent in Nigeria. These rates are measured using iGDP, which evaluates use of networks and services in private consumption, public expenditure, private investment and trade balance.

10. Key players in Africa’s Internet community come together with global members of the industry for the annual Africa Internet Summit. Participants discuss the continent’s challenges and use it as a platform to exchange knowledge. This year’s conference was themed “Beyond connection: Internetworking for African Development,” and took place in Tunisia from May 24 – June 3.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: All Africa, International Telecommunication Union, Internet Society, Africa Internet Summit, IT Web Africa
Photo: Africa Renewal

Facebook plans to bridge the digital divide by connecting the remaining two-thirds of the world without Internet to the growing web of information. As a leader in this “knowledge economy,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg partnered with other industry giants to provide access to those who cannot afford it.

He continues to collaborate with leading companies in the technology field: Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm and Samsung. These prominent members formed to offer connectivity to more than five billion people. In developing countries, his initiative aims provide the following:

More affordable access

Collaborative efforts between industry titans, such as Samsung and Nokia, will expand mobile access. To decrease the cost of delivering data, companies seek to develop low-cost smartphones and partner with internet providers to broaden the reach.

More efficient use of data

Global partners also plan to invest in products to limit the necessary amount of data. Along with “data compression tools,” these products may offer the enhancement of network capabilities and mobile frameworks designed to reduce the data use of applications.

Assist businesses in increasing access

These companies plan to incentivize the development and manufacturing of affordable devices for developing countries. The partnerships also aim to “localize services,” offering more languages on mobile devices.

Education Online: SocialEDU

Internet access alone cannot address underlying issues in developing nations. Zuckerberg, as a result, will apply to education inequities.

Referred to as SocialEDU, this program offers open online courses to students through a mobile application integrated with Facebook.

With a Facebook account, young Rwandans could learn from professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. Facebook prepares to combat the digital and educational barriers these students face and expand online education in Rwanda.

This social media platform partnered with “the Rwandan government, a telecom company, a device manufacturer and an educational content provider.” Such collaboration allows the for the following:

  •  Free content and data
  •  A supportive government
  •  Low-cost smartphones
  •  Innovative education on a local level

For one year, Airtel plans to provide the education content at no cost to participants.

Christian de Faria, the CEO of Airtel Africa, understands education drives social and economic growth. As a local carrier, Airtel will fuel this growth by offering a data subsidy.

Nokia has also joined this corporate collaboration, offering affordable smartphones to the region. This improves access to the Internet, enabling more students to join the open online classes.

The Nokia Vice President of Mobile Phones, Timo Toikkanen notes“Our affordable smartphones help people make the transition from simple mobility to more sophisticated experiences. Playing a role in helping students get access to these experiences, such as social education through the SocialEDU initiative, is truly an honor.”

To promote further corporate innovation, the Rwandan government offers:

  • Trade-in rebates
  • Interest rate subsidies
  • Micro-loan guarantees
  • Targeted use of its Universal Service Fund

In support of corporate social responsibility, the government plans to expand its Smart Kigali program. This offers free wi-fi on college campuses and as a result, more students can access the multi-media SocialEDU content. The government will further support this initiative by adapting course materials to the needs of local students.

These educational apps require a large amount of bandwidth. To combat this, Facebook promises to provide technical assistance and support the app in a low-bandwidth region. Partnering with Ericsson, the company must test the app capabilities in a 2G environment.

Tailoring services to meet the needs of regions across the globe is but one part of the equation. Through such innovation and corporate cooperation, the digital divide gradually closes. With the expansion of online education in Rwanda, Facebook and its global partners will propel the country into a knowledge-based economy.

Ellery Spahr

Sources: The Verge
Photo: PCI Podium

In the increasingly mechanized West, it is impossible to imagine daily life without constant connectivity—21st century consumers are defined by their smartphones, computers, and in general, their constant ability to participate in the internet community. With this omnipresence of technology, benefits are innumerable. However, in Africa, where much of the population lives in rural areas, connectivity is sparse.

Technology is inescapable in today’s globalized world: in order to compete, one must be connected. Luckily, the Kenyan nonprofit tech startup Ushahidi has recognized Africa’s dire need for technology. Their latest design, BRCK, seems to be a feasible solution. The device works as a modem that can connect 20 devices simultaneously and allow access to the Internet via WiFi, 3G, 4G, and Ethernet. The device can even function through a battery, providing constant access on a continent too often burdened with power blackouts.

From its origins, BRCK has received widespread support as an innovative product with the potential to revolutionize African technology. The project, which received its funding through Kickstarter, has energized the entire continent. With reliable Internet access, almost every African industry would progress prodigiously.

In her talk at TED, Ushahidi co-founder stressed the importance of BRCK, and by extension, technology, in the development of Africa. She said: “The idea is that the building blocks of the digital economy are connectivity and entrepreneurship. The BRCK is our part to keep Africans connected, and to help them drive the global digital revolution.”

Clearly, with reliable technology, the future of Africa is no longer nebulous. With equal access to information and markets, an auspicious change seems inevitable. With its solid design and brilliant inventors, BRCK appears to be the exact agent of change needed to propel Africa forward.

Furthermore, outside of the continent, BRCK has also received enormous attention. For those constantly on the go, whether for work or recreation, a reliable connection is indispensable. The product is now being sold for around 200 US dollars.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: Yahoo News, TED
Photo: Quartz