While the number of broadband connections in Africa crossed the 400 million mark last year (a near 20-times improvement compared with 2010), the World Bank says regional average broadband penetration -- including 3G and 4G connections -- reached only 25% in 2018.
The report from The Broadband for All Working Group suggests that for universal access to be achieved on the continent by 2030, major investment will be needed, including: $53 billion for network operations and maintenance; $29.5 billion for infrastructure capex; $18 billion for ICT skills and content; and $2.4 billion for policy and regulation costs.
Chart courtesy of the Broadband Commission Working Group on Broadband for All
"This is unquestionably a significant infrastructure undertaking, requiring the deployment of nearly 250,000 new 4G base stations and at least 250,000 kilometers of fiber across the region. It also requires rolling out satellites, Wi-Fi based solutions, and other innovations to reach an estimated population of nearly 100 million that live in remote rural areas that are currently out of reach of traditional cellular mobile networks," the report says.
To achieve access for all, African countries will need to bring about 1.1 billion more people online by 2030. The authors believe that this will require exceptional and coordinated efforts from governments, the private sector, development partners and civil society.
"Let us be clear: no single actor will be able to meet Africa's 2030 target and carry the burden of a $100 billion investment funding requirement alone. All stakeholders must work together to make sure that every African has affordable and reliable access to the Internet," says Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank's vice president for the Africa Region.
Ghanem believes this includes: the African Union and regional economic communities; African governments and respective public investment agencies; sector regulators; multilateral development banks and regional development banks; the United Nations and other development agencies; the private sector; and civil society groups and nongovernmental organizations.
In the short term, the World Bank wants to double broadband connectivity penetration in Africa by 2021, compared to 2016 penetration levels. In order to do this, nearly 220 million additional people must come online and an estimated $9 billion in investment is required.
"The digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda," says Makhtar Diop, the World Bank's vice president for infrastructure. "The working-age population in Africa is expected to increase by some 450 million people between 2015 and 2035. If current trends continue, less than one quarter will find stable jobs. Broadening Internet access means creating millions of job opportunities."
Mobile broadband coverage in Africa is at around 70% of the population and the report says that even in North Africa there is ample room for growth, with 4G networks covering only about 60% of the population. Additional challenges, such as the lack of access to reliable and affordable electricity, make accelerating Africa's digital transformation journey even more difficult.
"In large parts of Africa, we are witnessing a lack of progress in extending access and network coverage. Affordability is also declining in many nations. Promoting greater digital inclusion is going to require more effective and innovative collaboration," said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, executive director of the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and director of the ITU's Telecommunication Development Bureau.
"We need to leverage our strengths and expertise. Governments can help with policies enabling new technologies, new business models and investment. The right policies will, in turn, provide the private sector with the incentives to build out infrastructure and explore new technologies and applications that will drive demand," adds Bogdan-Martin.
Connecting the 100 million people in rural and remote areas that live out of reach of traditional cellular mobile networks will require strong private sector involvement, innovative business models, and alternative technologies, such as satellite- and WiFi-based technical solutions, the report notes.
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What are the most significant enterprise business applications for 5G deployment on the continent, and where can 5G facilitate IoT applications?
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From cash to mobile: heading towards a cashless society
Expanding MFS offerings beyond mobile money transfers
MNOs vs banks vs fintechs: an evolving competitive landscape
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The rise of micro-loans and insurance through mobile platforms
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Who’s Driving? The role of government & regulator, private tech companies, and public-private partnerships
Device affordability: are we reaching a tipping point?
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Exploring the wider societal and economic benefits of a connected, digitally literate continent