Back in 2005, mobile networks in Nigeria were offering GPRS internet but with limited deployment, marketing and subscriber uptake. Internet penetration in Nigeria was very low. I wrote about the way forward for bridging the digital divide in Africa as a whole, with a special focus on Nigeria. See: Bridging The Internet Divide In Africa with mobile data. The summary of my argument then was that the mobile networks offered the best opportunity to bridge the internet divide significantly and speedily.
Exactly as I postulated, African countries ended up bridging the digital divide via mobile networks. In Nigeria in particular, internet penetration took a leap forward when the mobile networks later deployed 3G internet and began marketing them aggressively. It has been largely the same everywhere else across Africa. Mobile data saved Africa.
The Digital Divide in Africa: What Has Changed?
The question now is whether anything has changed since 2005. Here is a quick summary of the situation on ground today:
- most internet subscribers in Africa are on mobile internet i.e. GPRS, EDGE, 3G, and 4G
- cable internet connections are still expensive and mostly restricted to high brow areas in a few major cities
- In good news, Africa is better connected to the rest of the world via several submarine cables
- Unfortunately, non-mobile ISPs have remained small players for the most part; as such, their impact on the population remains rather small
- Another thing that has not hanged is that Quality of Service by most ISPs and mobile networks remain very poor
- In recent times, data tariffs have dropped significantly
- It must also be acknowledged that more content is being created and uploaded now across Africa than ever before
- Africans are earning much more from digital (online) work than ever before
As we can see from the above list, it is a mixed bag. There are huge changes in some areas and very little in some others. In terms of the ISP landscape, not much has changed across Africa in 11 years. Of course, some operators have shut down, others have been acquired, some merged, and new entrants come on stream. However, the big picture hasn’t changed much. Quality of service hasn’t improved either. Subscribers are still plagued by the same issues as from years before.
A major significant change includes the fact that the continent now has superb capacity via submarine cables. This has led to lower tariffs paid by subscribers.
It has also spilled over into greater employment and income generation. Whether it is consumer content like text, images, audio, video, or backend work like programming and software development, people all across Africa are churning out products and services. And they are earning much more than ever before. Huge multitudes of young Africans are carving out the future of their dreams via productive use of the available internet connectivity.
We are no longer where we used to be, but there is a lot more to be done to bridge the digital divide in Africa and achieve greater internet penetration. The goal is to improve productivity and earning power everywhere on the continent.