For the first time ever, more than half of the world’s population is using the Internet and the strongest growth is in Africa. Here, the percentage of people using the Internet grew from 2.1% in 2005 to 24.4% in 2018.1
Europe, the Americas, the Arab States and the Asia-Pacific region all showed significantly lower growth. Over the past five years, mobile cellular subscription growth was driven by countries in Africa and the Asia-Pacific regions. The proportion of African households with computer access increased from 3.6% in 2005 to 9.2% in 2018.
In developed countries, the percentage of population using the Internet has increased through slow and steady growth, from 51.3% in 2005 to 80.9% in 2018. In developing countries, however, growth was more sustained, moving from 7.7% in 2005 to 45.3% at the end of 2018.
Africa still has some way to go, though. Mobile networks remain the key platform for voice as well as data connectivity. None of the 39 African countries ranked in a global broadband speed league2 achieved average speeds above 10Mb/s - the minimum speed required by consumers “to fully participate in a digital society” according to UK telecom regulator, Ofcom. Six of the ten lowest ranking countries are African. In a late 2017 survey of 60 low and middle-income countries only 24 met the UN Broadband Commission’s target of a gigabyte of data not costing more than 2% of average monthly income.3 Furthermore, Africa has the most expensive mobile data.4 On average, African countries spend about 1.1% of GDP on Internet infrastructure and networks, while developed countries spend 3.2% of GDP.5
However, recent research6 indicates improvement is to be expected. Backhaul capacity is being increased, improving fixed-line telecoms and increasing mobile data traffic volumes. Existing submarine and terrestrial cables are being used to improved connectivity in underserved regions.
Between 2014 and 2016, the number of homes and premises passed by fibre had more than tripled. Although some 85% of homes passed by fibre are in just five markets (South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritius), the ongoing FTTH boom extends to a wider area.7 The World Bank has also provided significant funding for submarine cables and terrestrial backbone networks, as well as public-private ventures in digital infrastructure to expand broadband access across Africa.
Changing regulatory regimes and national broadband plans reflect governments’ increasing understanding of broadband connectivity for economic and GDP growth, education and social inclusion. Further removal of infrastructural and legislative barriers and growing investment should bring more opportunities in the near future.
- Source: International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations agency specializing in information and communication technologies.
- Source: Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI)
- Source: Ecobank Research
- The African FTTH Boom - Last Mile Fibre Dynamics, Economics and Outlook in African Markets, a new report from Xalam Analytics