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Current Situation in Africa

Investment in ICT infrastructure in Africa has improved dramatically in recent years, representing a total of USD 8 billion in 2005, up from USD 3.5 billion in 2000. These figures reflect an increasingly vibrant private sector investment environment, which has been stimulated by the opening of most African telecommunication markets to competition, coupled with the establishment of independent regulators in almost 90 per cent of countries in the region.

This increasingly dynamic environment has resulted in lower prices for consumers and significantly widened access to telecommunications, particularly for mobile services in urban areas. The African mobile market has been the fastest-growing market of all regions, growing at twice the rate of the global market, with a leap from 16 million to 136 million subscribers between 2000 and 2005. Mobile now outnumbers fixed line penetration by nearly five to one in Africa.

Despite this very encouraging trend in mobile access, effective high-speed Internet services needed for important business, government and consumer applications continue to be either very expensive (especially when compared to average local incomes) or not available, depending on the location. This is due to limited broadband infrastructure investment in many parts of Africa. Where available, the cost of broadband Internet access in Africa is on average three times higher than in Asia for example, where such infrastructure investments have been made. It is not surprising then that broadband penetration is below one percent in Africa, compared to close to 30 per cent in some high-income countries.

In addition, while urban areas are benefiting from increasing access to mobile telephone and Internet services (albeit at dial-up speeds), many smaller towns and rural communities remain without any ICT access. And, locally relevant content, applications and services, for both Internet and mobile, which would support growing usage, are not yet widely available.

These market gaps present challenges, but they also reveal new opportunities for private investors and innovative “win-win” public-private partnerships to complement the successful experience of mobile telephony in Africa. Recognizing this potential, new players are entering the market. This has increased need for coordination and information-sharing among public funding partners and the private sector to avoid incoherence in infrastructure and service roll-out across the region.

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Updated : 2009-01-19