A number of factors have contributed to Africa’s increasing adoption of mobile phones for internet use over PCs — cost and lack of ethernet infrastructure for two. The cost of computers versus the lower prices of mobile phones in addition to the lack of physical internet cable implementation has spurred the growth of mobile devices in Africa — a trend that is now of global proportion. But Africa’s mobile scene presents unique challenges, and the recently reported interest in the continent’s digital communications from Mideast and European telcos has spun a larger conversation over the future of the continent’s growth.
MidEast telcos have been developing their presence in North Africa for a while. Etisalat — an Emirates-based telco — took over France’s Vivendi’s stake in Maroc Telecom in July, heightening its presence in West Africa. (Maroc Telecom was also Morocco’s largest operator, according to reports.) And European companies such as Orange have been increasing their investments in various countries to get a foothold in the developing markets. These growing investments from operators have accumulated throughout the year, and made for conversation at AfricaCom 2013 — a telecom conference held in Cape Town, South Africa earlier in November which calls together global technology leaders.
An executive from Gemalto — a digital security company — spoke after the conference and called for operators to take advantage of the unique communications landscape in Africa in order to bypass 3G implementation and escalate quickly to 4G. While attaining high speed wireless seems unlikely in regions that have barely reliable 2G, Sherry Zameer, head of Africa and Middle East telecommunications for the company, described the lack of regulation and restrictive platforms actually make Africa ripe for the buildout of 4G.
Naturally, this lofty goal still seems out of reach given the general lack of connectivity around the continent in the face of obstacles like cable theft and the availability of spectrum. But some regions have made more hefty moves in the 4G direction than others; Rwanda made significant progress in late October signing a deal with Korea Telecom to deliver 4G to its citizenry over the next three years. And Alcatel-Lucent just partnered with YooMee Africa to bring LTE to Cameroon and other countries.
As foreign investors and native companies alike band together to develop high-speed wireless in Africa — despite the tangible results from work in 2013 likely being years away — the continent will still see increasing web traffic as more mobile devices connect to the internet through these new, spreading networks.