How connectivity is shaping Africa’s digital economy

According to CIO, the mobile economy in Sub-Saharan Africa will generate more than $150 billion (or 7.9% of GDP) of economic value by 2022. Moreover, an additional 300 million people are estimated to go online by 2051, along with 44 million new cellular IoT connections. Last, but certainly not least, jobs supported by the mobile eco-system are projected to increase from 3 million in 2017 to 3.45 million in 2022.

digital economy

As Riaan Graham, sales director for Ruckus Networks (now CommScope by acquisition) sub-Saharan Africa notes, connectivity is shaping both the people and digital economy in Africa.

“One trend we are seeing is the strategic investments by a number of African countries towards becoming regional hubs,” Graham told CIO during a recent interview. “We have seen that happen in South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, but other countries are now shifting their focus, with strong inroads being made – just look at Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Ghana.”

The African continent, says Graham, is full of opportunity driven by access and connectivity. Nevertheless, there is a range of challenges that need to be addressed to ensure continued growth and positive impact.

“Many challenges are still experienced at the ‘last mile’ and even the last 50 meters. [For example], most African countries have expensive fiber backbones built, but there remains a lot of investment left to be done in the ‘last mile,’” he elaborates. “Investment in rural and peri-rural areas is another challenge, because the business cases in these areas may not be as obvious. This is where innovative thinking, new business models along the value chain and partnerships between industry sectors to share costs, are required.”

Graham also points out that allocation of licensed spectrum remains an ongoing challenge for regulators across the continent. Nonetheless, east Africa, notably Kenya, is making definite progress in assigning new spectrum and promoting regulation and legislation.

“While every country has a different level of maturity, we are not seeing this positive step being taken by other countries. If we move forward, we can’t continue repurposing 3G spectrum for 4G connectivity and beyond,” he explains. “The positive news is that from a network technology perspective, access gives way to hyperscale cloud computing, providing Africans access to the technologies required to develop digital businesses. Progressive policies will open this up further – providing more affordable access.”

There is also a strong need, says Graham, for Africa to focus on ICT and socio-economic development investment through innovation.

“Innovation lies at the heart of what will drive expansion and investment in infrastructure. We also need to work on developing skills for the fourth industrial revolution that are required to harness the power of cloud and connectivity to create new businesses or transform existing ones. We have to get the foundational elements right – and the time is now,” he adds.

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