ITU TELECOM AFRICA focuses on a continent at a crossroads
ITU's African Telecommunication / ICT Indicators 2008 report to be launched in Cairo
Geneva, 5 May 2008 — ITU TELECOM AFRICA kicks off with the launch of ITU’s African Telecommunication / ICT Indicators 2008 report, which is an invaluable information tool to inform and guide policy-makers, investors, analysts and other observers of Africa’s telecommunications landscape. It contains an extensive overview of key sector developments, and includes a number of recommendations to sustain growth and deepen access to information and communication technologies (ICT) in the region.
Africa marks unprecedented growth in mobile sector
Growth in Africa’s mobile sector has defied all predictions. Africa remains the region with the highest annual growth rate in mobile subscribers and added no less than 65 million new subscribers during 2007. At the beginning of 2008, there were over a quarter of a billion mobile subscribers on the continent. Mobile penetration has risen from just one in 50 people at the beginning of this century to almost one third of the population today. Mobile subscribers are also now more evenly distributed. In 2000, South Africa accounted for over half of all Africa’s mobile subscribers, but by 2007, almost 85 per cent were in other countries. Mobile success, driven largely by competition, is also spawning new services such as micro-payment prepaid recharging, single rate inter-regional roaming and the uptake of m-commerce applications.
Mobile subscribers and penetration in Africa
High prices, low usage… Africa’s broadband market needs a boost
While mobile services have become more accessible and affordable, Internet access has generally not. It is estimated that there were some 50 million Internet users in Africa in 2007, translating into around one person among twenty. Over half of the region’s Internet users are estimated to be located in North African countries and South Africa. In Sub Saharan Africa, only three per cent of the population is online. The scarcity of international Internet bandwidth and lack of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) drives up prices. Africa, the poorest region in the world, has the most expensive Internet prices. The average monthly Internet subscription is almost USD 50 in Africa, close to 70 per cent of average per capita income.
Morocco’s Internet users are almost 100% broadband
Broadband prices remain very high compared to income levels although average prices for Africa disguise significant underlying variability. Morocco, for example, has not only one of the highest broadband penetration rates in Africa, but also the lowest broadband prices, at USD 18 per month for a 256 kbps package. Broadband has proven so popular in Morocco that by the end of 2007, over 95 per cent of all Internet subscribers had a high-speed connection.
The future is wireless…
If broadband is to become more prevalent in Africa, it is likely to be through wireless technologies such as third generation (3G) mobile and WiMAX. In Mauritius and South Africa, 3G subscribers already outnumber fixed broadband subscribers. South Africa had 1.8 million 3G subscribers in September 2007 compared to 335 000 ADSL connections. Vodacom of South Africa reported that over 10 per cent of its 3G subscribers used data cards for connections to laptops, reflecting the popularity of 3G as a broadband access method. WiMAX is moving from an experimental testing phase to commercial deployment in a number of African countries. The spread of high-speed wireless technologies will intensify broadband competition in Africa. There is evidence that broadband pricing in Africa is lower in countries that have deployed both fixed and wireless broadband technology.
… and public access
The provision of voice telephony through public payphones is prevalent in some African countries. Liberalization of payphone markets has led to a proliferation of entrepreneurs reselling phone service. Take Togo for example, where about one quarter of fixed telephone lines are connected to private telephone cabins. The mobile boom has also created a large informal market reselling mobile airtime. This type of public access needs to be intensified for Internet access. Levels of home computer ownership and Internet subscription are extremely low in Africa and will remain so for years to come. Higher levels of ICT access will only be achieved through public facilities such as Internet cafés and schools. Practical programmes are needed to dramatically boost access through public facilities, including the full liberalization of public access licensing procedures to facilitate the creation of entrepreneur-operated facilities. This should be linked to e-government programmes in order to ensure that citizens can electronically interact with their governments.
Incentives for renewable energy
A serious impediment to the development of ICT markets in Africa is the lack of electricity. Energy shortages and power failures raise costs, as operators must maintain their own generators. Governments could consider offering tax rebates to offset the high costs of energy for telecommunication operators. Import duty waivers and tax reductions could be extended to local companies supplying renewable power and equipment to mobile operators. Private-public partnerships between utilities and telecommunication operators could also address specific energy needs.
At a crossroads
As the end of the first decade of the new millennium approaches, Africa stands at a crossroads, with ICT policy makers faced with important choices. While the mobile sector has grown tremendously, sustaining this momentum and expanding access in areas where Africa is lagging behind such as Internet and broadband, will not come easy. Getting more users on board would mean targeting lower income segments of the population. These potential customers are highly sensitive to price and small changes can have a big impact.
Bringing down prices will be key in expanding access to more Africans. Governments can do their share by reducing taxes, interconnection rates and regulatory costs. Deeper liberalization such as the abolition of remaining exclusivities on market entry, the reduction of license fees and simplification and transparency of licensing procedures can help to increase competition and lower costs. Infrastructure sharing is particularly relevant in a region that needs both investment in ICT facilities and lower prices. It is therefore logical to minimize duplication and share facilities where practical. Regulators can help by creating a trusting environment among operators and developing policies that promote infrastructure sharing.
The report will be launched at the opening Press conference of ITU TELECOM AFRICA on 11 May in Cairo, Egypt.
In addition to the analytical section, the report includes 21 regional tables covering key telecommunication/ICT indicators (2006/2007 data), 53 individual country pages with a five year profile from 2003-2007, and a directory of telecommunication ministries, regulators and operators in the region.
The report will be available as of 11 May, 2008 after its launch in Cairo. Advance press copies are available for ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008 accredited media only.
ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008, the ICT showcase for the African region, features a state-of-the-art ICT exhibition of products, applications and services as well as a high-profile Forum, which brings together CEOs, Ministers, regulators and policy-makers to debate and shape the future of Africa’s ICT industry.
ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008 will take place in Cairo, Egypt, 12−15 May 2008. The venue: Cairo International Convention & Exhibition Centre.
Accreditation for media and industry analysts for ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008. All journalists and industry analysts who wish to gain full access to information and benefit from media services for this event need to be accredited.
Accreditation to ITU TELECOM AFRICA 2008 will also provide access to the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day celebrations and award ceremony at the Cheops Auditorium, CICC on 15 May at 13:00.
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Updated : 2008-05-14