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Africa: Mobile Renaissance?
May 6, 2004 (040506)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
The number of telephone subscribers in Africa has more than doubled
in the last three years. In 2003, Africa had 73 million voice
telephone subscribers (22 million fixed and 51 million mobile), up
from 35.4 million in 2000 (19.7 million fixed and 15.7 million
These statistics, provided by the International Telecommunications
Union (ITU), may or may not herald a "renaissance," as the ITU
suggested in a recent press release (see
http://www.itu.int/AFRICA2004/media/renaissance.html). But the
rapid growth rates are attracting wide attention from governments,
investors, and activists concerned with finding new ways to address
the digital solidarity gap.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes excerpts from an ITU report and
selected articles from Highway Africa News Agency on the
ITU-sponsored Africa Telecom 2004 conference, now underway in
Cairo. For the official conference website, visit
http://www.itu.int/AFRICA2004/ Among other information, the site
has a 138-page report with African telecommunication indicators by
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin today includes excerpts from the
Association for Progressive Communication's Africa ICT Policy Monitor
on recent meetings in Nairobi on information and communication
Previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on related issues include:
Africa: Internet Creativity Feb. 17, 2004
Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 2 and
Africa: Digital Solidarity Gap, 1 Dec 15, 2003
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
African Telecommunication Indicators 2004 (138 pages; 2.5 M)
[excerpted from pages 7-9]
The mobile telecommunication sector has to qualify as one of
Africa's success stories. In 2003 alone, over 13 million new mobile
subscribers were added on the continent, a figure equivalent to the
total number of telephone (fixed and mobile) subscribers in 1995.
Africa's mobile market has been the fastest growing of any region
over the last five years. The total number of mobile subscribers at
the end of 2003 was just short of 52 million and mobile penetration
stood at 6.2 per 100 inhabitants, twice the fixed rate. The African
mobile communications sector is also performing well financially.
In 2003 it broke the US$ ten billion barrier in revenues with
profits estimated at over US$ one billion. This wealth has spread
to other stakeholders such as governments, who have collected over
US$ four billion in license fees, and to equipment manufacturers,
who have earned over US$ five billion in contracts in Africa since
Mobile has been critical for enhancing access to telecommunications
in Africa where fixed lines are limited. In Nigeria, Africa's most
populated country, for example, mobile telephony has increased
total telephone penetration from 0.5 to 3.3 per cent in just three
years. The number of mobile subscribers passed the number of fixed
lines in Africa in 2001. By 2003 almost 70 per cent of all African
telephone subscribers used mobile; the figure was even higher in
Sub-Sahara, where three out of four telephone subscribers use a
mobile. This is the highest ratio of mobile to total telephone
subscribers of any region in the world.
Data on the number of African households with a mobile phone is
sketchy but for those countries that compile this statistic, the
results are impressive. In South Africa, 32 per cent of households
have a mobile compared to only 24 per cent for fixed (Figure 1.2,
left). In Morocco, the corresponding figures are 31 and 19 per
cent. Analysis also show that mobile has been particularly
beneficial in providing access to underserved areas. In Moroccan
rural households, mobile phones outnumber fixed by six to one. Thus
for most Africans mobile is the only form of telephone
communications they know and may ever know.
The African mobile market is different in other ways too. Africa
has ended up as the world's most GSM-oriented market outside Europe
where that technology was mandated. Africa is also the most
pre-paid market in the world. At the same time, the continent leads
in a couple of not so desirable categories. Overall mobile
penetration is the lowest of any region at six per cent in 2003
compared to the global figure of 22. The percentage of the African
population within range of a mobile signal is estimated at only 60
per cent, the lowest in the world. At the end of 2003 less than
half the population in Sub-Saharan Africa was covered by a mobile
Africa Telecoms Faces New Connection Challenge
Highway Africa News Agency (Grahamstown)
May 1, 2004
By Guy Berger Cairo
Egypt's hieroglyphics are among Africa's oldest communications, and
it is fitting that Cairo is the setting of a landmark event about
21st century ways of communicating on the continent.
But the Africa-wide summit convened by UN agency, the International
Telecoms Union (ITU), also needs to give impetus to a lot more
growth - including to Internet access.
There is much for the expected 10 000 participants to party about
in Cairo. New technology and falling costs have seen extraordinary
growth in telephony in Africa, and more is to come. In mobile
connections, which are now double those of fixed lines, there are
almost 52 million cellphones around the continent.
Says ITU official, Michael Minges: "Mobile technology is the
Information Society in Africa." Yet, there is also a long way to go
to reach the 820 million inhabitants of the continent - and to
reach even the majority who do have telephone connections but no
Telecom connections across the continent are vital for people
talking to each other, but real participation in the Information
Society means they also need access to follow-on services such as
Internet email and the world wide web - and to high-quality access
The ITU says that though the number of Internet users in Africa
rose by almost a third between 2002 and 2003, the bigger picture is
that this means there is now just one person in 50 on the continent
who is "wired".
The focus of the Cairo conference will be on growing basic
telephone services further, whether through cellular and wireless
systems or through cables and copper wires. But the ITU is also
reminding delegates that Africa faces an even bigger challenge -
the need for fast-speed and "always-on" connections to the
Known as "broadband", this rich connection capacity is needed, says
the ITU, for activities like tele-medicine. In this scenario,
doctors in different geographical areas, for example, can to work
together in real-time through an inexpensive videoconference
discussion of a patient's x-rays.
Around the world, also studies show that when people have access to
affordable broadband, they use the Internet a whole lot more -
because waiting time is cut, and they can also access audiovisual
content without problems.
The "broadband" scenario raises the likelihood that users will be
charged more for the amount of data (voice, images, etc.) coming
through their connection, rather than the minutes they spend using
That's another way that a development that starts with telecoms
triggers models that are different to conventional telephony
The Cairo summit comes in the context that "broadband" technology
has added another level to the digital divide - leaving Africa even
further behind than it has been.
The big divide nowadays is not only about access to services for
basic telephony, and not only about access to Internet. It is also
becoming one about the quality of access to the Internet - between
who has broadband access and everyone else.
According to the ITU, Africa has very little broadband, and what
does exist is mainly limited to the relatively few places where
there are already fixed lines. The result is that citizens of
Luxembourg (450 000 people) have more broadband bandwidth available
to them, than the 820 million people in Africa put together.
Because of this, there is interest in Cairo in wireless methods of
spreading broadband across the continent. The ITU for one believes
that because of the limited fixed line infrastructure, "Africa's
broadband will be driven by alternative access methods" - and in
It suggests that wireless broadband services in Africa can and
should be allowed to kill several birds with one stone - allow for
voice, data and internet services. This contrasts with much of the
continent where some companies are allowed to do voice calls only,
while others may offer only Internet and are banned from providing
The technology treated by the ITU as the most promising is WiMax,
which can carry 70 megabits per second over a radius of 50 km.
Satellite services could play a role in linking WiMax points
together and into the broader Internet, although they are not a
major point of discussion in Cairo.
WiMax Internet access does not necessarily mean mobile use - in the
way that a cellphone user can keep a call moving from cell to cell.
But there are technologies, known as 2.5 generation, which do allow
for a degree of Internet connection, even if not quite at the full
A factor limiting the growth of information on the Internet in the
First World has been the fact that no one wants to pay for content
However, the ITU points out that people are generally used to
paying for telephone services, and that this business model could
be the basis for viable information businesses making internet
content available via cellphones.
In Korea, more than one in three people use their cellphones to get
information from the Internet, especially for entertainment advice
and even viewing movies. "M-commerce", when a cellphone serves as
a creditcard with the bill coming onto your phone account, is also
taking off in Korea.
The ITU says that "Africa's robust growth leads that of Latin
America and the former Soviet republics, but its jaw-droppingly low
penetration rate still leaves a yawning void. Under 6% of all
Africans can access telecommunications of any kind."
If Cairo adds momentum to telecoms growth around the continent, and
to broadband Internet as part of this, it will turn out to be an
important milestone in tackling the digital divide.
Broadband must be Africa's aim
By Guy Berger (Highway Africa News Agency)
May 5, 2004
African governments and regulators need to create an environment
conducive to the growth of telecoms and very especially of
broadband infrastructure in order to build the Information Society.
This was the message to the Africa Telecom 2004 conference by Karl
Socikwa, CEO of South Africa's parastatal Transtel. The company is
part of a consortium being licensed to operate South Africa's
second national operator.
A broadband action plan was needed for the continent, and each
country needed one as well, he said.
Broadband meant, "a connection to each customer with enough
bandwidth, and it becomes possible to support a range of multiple,
simultaneous combined voice and data services."
He quoted South Africa's Convergence Bill as defining broadband as
"a high capacity link between end user and suppliers, capable of
supporting full motion, interactive video applications".
Socikwa complained that just as the WSIS final documents failed to
include reference to convergence, so South Africa's Convergence
Bill only mentioned broadband once. He also noted that at present
the highest broadband connection a person could get in South Africa
was 512 kilobytes, "a far cry from the multi-megabits per second
Arguing that the information society could not exist without
telecoms and advanced telecoms services, the Transtel CEO said that
the time to develop broadband policies was now.
"Just as the growth of mobile is closing the gap between developing
and developed countries in basic telephony, so the lack of
broadband access is widening a new digital divide."
Broadband was what made convergence a reality, said Socikwa. In
turn, convergence referred to the way that any content whether
voices or data could be represented in digital form and conveyed
on any digital infrastructure.
Socikwa predicted that "broadband penetration will become the
measure of access to a wide range of services and information."
Tradition low-bandwidth services such as the "plain old telephone"
would become obsolete, and multiple services the norm.
His current concern was that "it is regulation, and not simply
technology, that makes for convergence "
South Africa's draft convergence law would make for a competitive
market that would "blur the lines between all facilities players,
fixed and mobile, voice and data."
Socikwa cautioned, however, that if this undermined the conditions
of existing licences, or changed the environment overnight, it
could discourage investment in the sector.
The speaker, whose own company will have a fixed line license that
will combine wired and wireless technologies, was sceptical about
mobile telephony providing adequate broadband access. "Despite all
the hype about 3G mobile, true broadband access is, and will
remain, a fixed network phenomenon."
Broadband was the primary driver of the growth in fixed line
telecoms networks, Socikwa said. The most successful broadband
operators around the world had taken a mass-market approach, making
the service available and affordable to a large percentage of their
The Transtel CEO stated that the growth of mobile services was no
surprise because "governments have typically allowed competition in
mobile services whiles clinging to control of monopoly fixed-line
He also noted that "incumbent operators are often the fiercest
critics of disruptive technologies and will often choose not to
deploy appropriate technologies for fear of eroding their existing
revenue and infrastructure base.
"In Africa, we cannot afford the luxury of this approach.
Innovation must be rewarded, rather than punished, and competition
must not revolve around protection of the incumbent, but of the
interests of the user."
Socikwa cited a prediction by a company called Ovum that there
would be 1.8million broadband subscribers in South Africa by 2009.
"Not only does this number need to be greater, or the date earlier,
but it needs to be matched across the continent, if Africa is to
have any hope of bridging this new digital divide."
Governments should consider subsidised access to broadband. There
should also be incentives to operators since "the long-term
national benefits far outweigh the short term infrastructure costs
operators will have to bear."
He pointed out that "the need for Internet and other data services
requires a level of sophistication only found in literate, or at
least computer-literate societies. Bridging this divide takes more
than investment in telecommunications, but also in education and
According to Socikwa, voice over internet protocol (VOIP) was not
a miracle technology for Africa, but "simply another tool that
operators have that allows them to build cost-effective
He praised Egypt for a very aggressive promotion of internet.
International funding agenda at Africa telecoms meeting
By Guy Berger (Highway Africa News Agency)
May 3, 2004
World support for Africa getting its people connected to the
Information Society is a key theme at the "Advantage Africa"
telecoms forum taking place in Cairo this week.
It is a subject that has a range of players competing with each
other for the most progressive profile and many of them are
prominent at the Egyptian event. But some of the most relevant,
such as the USA, are conspicuously absent.
The high level event is convened by UN agency, the International
Telecoms Union (ITU). The ITU is on a roll from its high-profile
World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva last
ITU chief Yoshio Utsumi is clear that his group will want credit
for the Cairo occasion. Earlier this year, he warned his
organisation that other international groups are "aggressively
positioning themselves" to compete with ITU for leadership in
promoting the spread of Information Society technology around the
While not spelling out who he meant, it is likely that he has in
mind the US-supported ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers, as well as rival UN agencies like UNESCO and the
World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Utsumi said that "if ITU is to remain the key international player
in bridging the digital divide, as we must, it is crucial that we
assume a leadership role in convincing other international
organizations to work with us in implementing the WSIS Digital
The ITU chief's reference is to the decision at the Geneva summit
to study models for financing digital development, and report back
to the second phase of WSIS in Tunis at the end of 2005.
Accordingly, the Cairo meeting - the first big ITU show since
Geneva - is part the international politics of "digital
solidarity". Countries like Egypt and Nigeria, and companies like
Alcatel, are using the theme to beat their own drums.
The concluding Forum session on Thursday explicitly covers "Digital
Solidarity". It is billed as bringing together the hosts of the
Geneva WSIS i.e. the Swiss government, along with Senegal which
first proposed a "Digital Solidarity Fund", and Tunisia who will
host the final summit.
According to the programme, the session "will provide the perfect
opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the first phase of
WSIS and to plan for a successful implementation of the second
The session also includes speeches by Nigerian ministers and the UN
Economic Commission for Africa.
But noticeably absent are representatives of richer countries whose
support would be needed if the ITU is to be able to deliver
meaningful digital solidarity and secure its status as harbinger of
a globally inclusive information society.
AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication
providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with
a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus
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