Bridging Africa’s digital divide: The fiber optic leap | Africa | DW | EUROtoday

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Tech firms similar to Google and Facebook father or mother Meta are investing in new knowledge highways and speeds for Africa. The first Google Cloud knowledge heart on the African continent has been up and operating since January in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“The big US tech giants have recognized the existing connectivity gaps and the need for additional investment associated with this as a major business opportunity,” Tevin Tafese, knowledge scientist on the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), instructed DW.

“Prominent examples are Google and Meta, whose major cable projects are aimed at reducing the cost of accessing their own service in a largely untapped African market.”

Africa’s first fiber optic path to Australia

Google had dedicated $1 billion (€920,000) in 2022 to drive Africa’s digital transformation, together with undersea cables for sooner web connections. One of the initiatives is known as Umoja — named after the Swahili phrase for unity — and goals to be the primary ever fiber optic cable connecting Africa on to Australia.

The fiber optic cable route anchored in Kenya will run by way of Uganda, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC),Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, from the place it should proceed alongside the Indian Ocean mattress to Australia.

Better, sooner, cheaper web

“It is expected that these projects will significantly improve internet access in Africa, speed up the connection and reduce prices,” stated Tafese, who identified that reiable web entry results in elevated productiveness and better charges of employment.

Key gamers in African web infrastructure embody multinational telecom giants like MTN (South Africa), Orange S.A. (France), Vodafone Group (UK), and Bharti Airtel (India).

So-called leapfrogging — when the standard phases of technological improvement are bypassed in favor of extra superior options — has performed a central function within the institution of cell phone use in Africa. The mounted, conventional landline networks have been leapfrogged.

“Technology has been leapfrogged,” stated Tafese. “All African international locations, except South Africa and some choose North African international locations, have gone to cell telephones and cell networks and haven’t used landlines and landline web.

Leapfrogging can also be happening within the growth of web infrastructure, when high-capacity fiber optic cables are instantly laid as an alternative of the copper cables that have been initially used within the Global North.

Anriette Esterhuysen, an IT professional and advisor at Johannesburg’s Association for Progressive Communications (APC), instructed DW that he welcomed the newest developments.

“It’s good that these investments are being made, that capacities are being increased and that the large technology industry is recognizing that African markets have potential,” she stated.

But this does nothing to vary the digital inequality, which is rising though there are extra “haves” within the digital sector.

“People who have no access, no devices, no skills and no good networking are even more marginalized than before the digital boom,” emphasised Esterhuysen.

Unlocking digital entry

Increased funding holds the promise of increasing digital engagement for extra folks. By bolstering infrastructure and accessibility, extra Africans can faucet into the advantages of the digital realm.

“It may currently make money for companies and empower the elites who are digitally enabled, but it won’t really benefit wider socio-economic development,” saif Esterhuysen.

In 2024, web utilization varies considerably throughout international locations.

Morocco boasts 90% utilization, South Africa stands at 75%, whereas the Central African Republic has solely 11% on-line because of infrastructure challenges and prices. Ghana, an early adopter, related to the World Wide Web in 1992.

High prices of cellular phone plans

Sub-Saharan Africa has the world’s costliest cell knowledge costs, which widens the “digital divide” between web haves and have-nots.

The United Nations Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has set a goal to carry the price of entry-level broadband companies under 2% of month-to-month gross nationwide revenue (GNI) per capita by 2025.

But attaining this objective stays elusive in lots of international locations and the digital divide persists.

In Ghana, for instance, many individuals are postpone by the excessive price of information, stated Divine Puplampu, a software program developer and co-founder of Stimuluz Technologies in Ghana’s capital Accra, who prompt that the Ghanaian authorities “milks” its residents for prime cellular phone charges and tariffs.

On the opposite facet of Africa, in Mozambique, a whole lot of individuals lately marched by way of the streets of downtown Maputo to the headquarters of the telecommunications regulator (INCM) to protest in opposition to nation’s excessive web price.

“Governments don’t want to understand the importance of every citizen being empowered by the internet and therefore being able to speak their mind,” stated Puplampu.

“Sometimes I am tempted to believe that governments are afraid of too much access to information because it could [negatively] affect their power.”

Africa may more and more develop into a hub for digital companies and work along with firms in Europe and the United States, he emphasised.

“But our government cannot guarantee a stable internet,” he stated, including that it wants to higher subsidize community improvement.

This article was initially written in German.

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