3 Feb 2011

A looming broadband revolution in West & Central Africa: Are better days ahead??

In the same way that the past decade has however been pivotal for both economic and political growth in West & Central Africa, it has also seen rise to the growth of African Information Communications Technology (ICT). For many nations, the ability to connect to the global network of submarine broadband optical fibre infrastructure has been the principal trigger for this development, creating an increasingly enabling environment to the information superhighway that dominates the 21st century. Mobile telephony in particular has greatly benefitted, constituting a significant service delivery platform for the population. Yet this overall picture, characterised by increasing competition and decreasing costs of connectivity, with predictions of 100% growth of the mobile market in the next 5 years (Informa Telecoms & Media) , hides the inequalities that continue to pervade the region. In particular, countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe have continued to be subject to the highest connectivity costs in the world and distanced from the increasing geographical reach of broadband networks.

World Bank works to boost Africa’s connectivity
So the news in January 2011 that the World Bank has approved 3 projects to boost ICT infrastructure and access to services in these three countries surely may have the greatest revolutionary impact on the region. With the principles of commercialisation and liberisation at their heart, the initiatives, totalling a huge US$71.5 million dollars, look promising in reaching the ultimate goal of ubiquitous connection. Whilst these areas have habitually been down-trodden as small and unattractive markets to the traditional investor, the World Bank is stepping into pastures new. This in itself will at the least reduce the region’s damaging stigma, and at most, catalyse investment by others into the region.

Successful scaling-up of internet access?
Evidently, now is a crucial time for the region as these initiatives set to work. To what extent will the ‘connectivity challenge’ in these regions remain as the projects transpire? Will they be the first domino to fall, triggering widespread regional growth for ICT? Yusupha Crookes, World Bank Africa Regional Director, states that ‘better days are now ahead’. Only time will tell but I must say it looks promising. If successful, such scaling up of internet access will ultimate lead to advances in communication, in itself leading to vast improvement s in economic and social quality of life.

With such wide-spread impacts to potentially be made on the entire West & Central African, evolving networks and services must be thoroughly examined and monitored to capture the region’s growth potential. The market needs to be thoroughly consulted as to the best ways to build the infrastructure to improve the access to these communications, to look at issues of cost-efficiency, to look at value-added services which can be targeted to local consumers’ needs... To find the ONLY forum focused on the West & Central African region where such pivotal issues are addressed click here: http://wcafrica.comworldseries.com/.