The latest data from Internet World Stats, an international online market research company, suggests fewer than 16% of African users have access to the internet.
The cost of installing the needed infrastructure is quite high, especially if you have to connect every home with copper and fiber-optic cables. However, technology companies and entrepreneurs are coming up with innovative ways to provide fast and affordable broadband access to areas held back by limited infrastructure.
In order to deal with the problem of connectivity in Africa, Ushahidi (a nonprofit tech company) has created the BRCK modem, which is
a rugged portable device with a battery that could work for up to 8 hrs between charges and switch between Ethernet, WiFi, 3G and, if lucky, 4G.
On the topic of Africa’s digital development, Manager of networking and telecommunications at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Les Cottrell, writes
I think in many cases Africa will actually ‘leapfrog’ the need to install hard-wired cables everywhere, and will be able to use different techniques such as the BRCK modem, the low-orbiting satellites or the 3G solutions to get connectivity to where they need.
African entrepreneurs cannot wait for infrastructure to catch up and the potential for BRCK and other similar devices, is enormous. Even international companies, such as Google and Microsoft, have been pushing for better internet access on the continent.
Google’s Project Loon involves sending solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to the edge of space to boost web access.
Microsoft took it even further through their USD 70m 4Afrika Initiative, where one project involves using TV white space and solar-powered base stations to provide low-cost wireless access to rural areas. The pilot project was launched in Kenya in February and in neighboring Tanzania in May.
With such new technologies and the willingness to create other innovative alternatives, improved internet connectivity and the freedom of information could lead to tremendous developments in the African context. Far-reaching, stable internet for small-scale entrepreneurs, the spread of information on health and sanitation issues, connectivity to a world beyond the local community, statistics on pricing and documents on human rights. All these useful tidbits, could greatly benefit their lives and would hopefully lead to an increase in living standards for the rural poor.