In Africa, by gaping contrast, running water and basic electricity are still luxuries in the majority of the continent.
In Ghana today a 1Mbps Internet circuit costs between $2500 and $5000 per month, and remains in the realm of the wealthy corporations, whereas the average home in North America enjoys 10Mbps for between $10 and $50 per month. Why? How will access improve?
Historically, the cost of getting the Internet backbone to Africa has been prohibitive. Satellite was the only method until about 5 years ago when the SAT3 fibre cable (a project from South Africa that lay fibre from Cape Town up to Sesimbra in Portugal) became accessible from a few of the countries up the west coast of the continent.
Even then, the Government Telecommunications companies have had sole ownership of the capacity and have been selling access at anything from $5000 to $30000 per month per 2Mbps circuit.
Internet penetration has remained dismally behind the rest of the world. Statistics indicate that in various countries across the continent, between 4 and 10% of the population has access to Internet.
But these are exciting times for Africa. Things are about to change drastically. The Seacom cable in Kenya has brought fibre connectivity into Europe recently, meaning an increase in speed and reliability, along with a drastic price decrease and resulting increase in access.
iHub in Kenya has been in the news lately as well – proving that once the It world opens up, the interest and the talent will arrive, and things will start to happen. Developers, programmers, designers and researchers are busy at work in this new forum – proving that Africans are ready to contribute to the technological advancement of the continent.
On the west coast things are hotting up as well. Ghana is on the verge of a major technological breakthrough. Here to rival the monopolies that have controlled the fibre and suppressed access, are a string of new companies who have put their money into the soil and built new fibre cables across the region. MainOne has arrived and threatened to topple the current pricing model. On it’s heels, a Nigerian one-man-show company, Glo is arriving as well. Next year there will be a cable called WACS. The competition will be intense. The man on the ground in Ghana will definitely benefit. Today Vodafone has opened 40Mbps cyber cafes around the country. Only a few months ago, an average café here would struggle with access to 160th of that bandwidth for it’s users to share.
It’s actually amazing.
For me what is most amazing is still the way Africa manages to blend such extremes.
In villages all over Ghana, you can see lines of patrons, under the hot sun, cell phones in hand, waiting to charge them via a car battery, since the village has no electricity. Has never had electricity.
Some low tech engineers have even developed bicycle powered cell phone chargers – photo here courtesy of Afrigadget.
Taxi drivers earning $1 a day are sharing cell phone credit through the cloud, via their handsets…
A barefoot farmer stops at a cyber café on his 10 mile walk to market and perches his 5 chickens, bound with rope, at the door of the establishment while he runs in to check his hotmail.
The modern world is stretching in deeper and deeper to the remotest regions. Twitter is no longer just the sound a bird makes, and myspace is not just a patch of land...
Facebook is becoming a major forum - driving ICT adoption across Africa. There are over 300,000 users in Kenya and Ghana's rate of growth is 3x that of the USA. This is only the beginning I'm sure.
Times for Africa, they are a changin’….