Sub-Saharan Africa’s digital exclusion woes persist
Even though a lot of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are covered by a mobile broadband (MBB) network, they still don’t subscribe to mobile Internet.
This is according to Akinwale Goodluck,head of Africa at the GSM Association (GSMA), noting that bridging the mobile Internet usage gap remains a significant challenge in the region.
Goodluck made the comments during a Webinar organised by Huawei, focusing on digital infrastructure as the foundation for national prosperity.
Global Internet penetration has passed 50%, with Sub-Saharan Africa at 24%, GSMA stats show.
“The biggest task for us as stakeholders in Sub-Saharan Africa now is to bring more and more people online, so that they can participate in the digital economy and then we can see this growth that we are expecting the Internet will provide for us in Sub-Saharan Africa,” said Goodluck.
“We’ve still got a relatively big coverage gap across the region but we are seeing operators supported by OEMs like Huawei and Ericsson beginning to develop more and more rurally sensitive solutions in terms of costs, technology and ability rollout, which is beginning to impact mobile broadband across rural areas.”
Barriers to entry
GSMA research shows 62% of the over 800 million people across Sub-Saharan Africa that don't use the mobile Internet are covered by a MBB network.
According to Goodluck, this highlights that the problem is not necessarily coverage but that there are barriers stopping people from going online, which need to be addressed.
While barriers like digital literacy, affordability of devices and data bundles, security and coverage exist, he noted that what has become clear now is that there is a lack of relevance for a lot of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
This problem also exists in developed markets for older demographics, as noted by the GSMA.
He explained: “Music and video are big drivers for Internet adoption and data growth traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa, but the reality is there needs to be a compelling proposition for a lot of people in the region to come online.
“People see no reason to invest in a data bundle. Because of poverty levels, people will only invest money in what will drive economic wellbeing and if they don’t see that proposition on the Internet, then they are not going to go online.
“It is on all stakeholders to find that sweet spot for people in Sub-Saharan Africa – what does he or she require, what are the benefits they would like to see and how do we bring them online.”
Turning to the adoption of 4G in Sub-Saharan Africa, Goodluck said aside from South Africa, which is at 23%, other countries in Africa are below 10%, while the average for the region stands at about 7%.
This, he said, means there is capacity on the ground but there is no throughput. “We are building 10-lane highways but we are only riding bicycles on those highways. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of addressing challenges and barriers to 4G adoption.”
He continued that by the end of 2019, 3G connections, for the first time, overtook 2G. “This is a good indicator that more and more people are becoming Internet-aware and we envisage that by 2023, even 4G connections would have outstripped 3G connections.”
Between 2023 and 2025, 5G will begin to creep in, he added.
GSMA’s “The Mobile Economy 2020” report shows the Sub-Saharan Africa region will only see 31 million 5G connections by 2025, which is 3% of the global average.
Goodluck concluded: “5G is going to be an enabler for all the things we are talking about 5G being able to do. It is inevitable for us in Sub-Saharan Africa but it is not imminent. 5G will drive a lot of complex operations but for us in Sub-Saharan Africa, we still need to get quite a few things right before we can rollout 5G.
“5G ultimately is going to be a big game-changer for the world and indeed Sub-Saharan Africa.”