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