Africa has been stuck in a technological quagmire that seems to not want to go away anytime soon: the market for fixed broadband. A recent revelation by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report has all the hallmarks of the need for Africa to improve its status for fixed broadband.

With the absence of legacy infrastructure and the relatively lower costs of deploying wireless broadband, the continent has one of the lowest fixed broadband subscription rates so far.

ITU estimated a fixed broadband subscription rate of 0.5 per 100 inhabitants for Africa in 2020, a figure that is well below the global average of 15.2 subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Yet fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants have increased across most countries for which data were available. “Within the region, two-thirds of the countries slightly increased their fixed broadband subscription rates in the period 2018- 2019,” says the ITU.

The same exhaustive report goes on to say, just under one-third of countries show declining subscription rates for the same period; Seychelles and Mauritius are two significant outliers, with fixed broadband subscription rates per 100 inhabitants well above the world average, recording sizable increases for the period 2018-2019.

The availability of international bandwidth continues to be an important area for policy and investment, especially given the rising amount of data-intensive applications, cloud-based services and the increasing numbers of Internet users desiring better international connectivity.

“The Africa region is lagging far behind other regions with regard to international bandwidth at the aggregate and individual levels. Although the total international bandwidth across the region has more than doubled over the last four years from 5 Tbit/s in 2017 to 11 Tbit/s in 2020, it represents only 1.5 per cent of the total world international bandwidth.

At the individual user level, there were 30.8 kbit/s per Internet user in the Africa region in 2019, compared with 131.3 kbit/s per Internet user globally.

The ITU further notes that at the country level, international bandwidth per Internet user has increased across almost all the countries in the region, where data were available.

Kenya had the highest international bandwidth per Internet user, with 566.41 kbit/s and a CAGR of 52 per cent for the period 2015- 2019. Just over one-third of the countries had CAGRs in excess of 40 per cent, including Sao Tome and Principe, Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Ghana, Togo, Zambia, Namibia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Angola, Mozambique, Mali, the Central African Republic and Liberia.

Over the same period, just under one-third of countries grew their international bandwidth per Internet user between 20 and 40 per cent. Few countries, including South Sudan, Ethiopia, Niger, Senegal, Eswatini, South Africa, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Gambia and Cabo Verde experienced small or no growth.

“To ensure that the Africa region, as one of the most important future global growth markets, is embracing digital transformation and that it has adequate connectivity, expanding international connectivity via submarine cables, international fibre and satellite remains key” points out the ITU data.

By the end of 2019, 28 African ITU Member States had, at least, one submarine cable landing. Fifteen ITU Member States in the region are landlocked and have to rely on either satellite or international fibre link capacity. Approximately 45 per cent of Africa’s population is more than 10 km away from fibre network infrastructure.

In conclusion, while progress has been made, challenges persist with regard to the cost of infrastructure. However and sadly so for a this analysis, ITU data for satellite broadband subscriptions were only available for 19 countries, with the biggest markets including Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya. 

For the uninitiated, broadband in this context entails the High-speed connectivity for public use of at least 256 Kbit/s or more in one or both directions (downloading and uploading).

It includes cable modem Internet connections, DSL Internet connections of at least 256 Kbit/s or higher, fibre and other fixed broadband technology connections (such as satellite broadband Internet, Ethernet LANs, fixed-wireless access, Wireless Local Area Network, WiMAX, etc.) Private Internet connectivity within educational institutions via mobile phone networks is excluded.

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