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More on Telecoms Connectivity

Pan-African technology group, Liquid Intelligent Technologies, also announced that it has acquired space on the Google-backed Equiano subsea cable. The firm’s latest acquisition gives it the capacity to transport traffic up to 12 Tbps and will boost international connectivity in Western and Southern Africa. In a statement, the company said the Equiano cable system will address the rising demand for internet capacity in coastal and landlocked African countries as its older subsea cables near the end of their lifespan.

The Equiano subsea cable is scheduled to land in Sesimbra (Portugal), Lomé (Togo), Lagos (Nigeria), Swakopmund (Namibia), Rupert’s Bay (Saint Helena), and Melkbosstrand (SA) later this year.

In late 2021, Africa became home to one of the longest cables ever planned, after a consortium of telecom operators together with Facebook (now Meta), launched 2Africa, stretching 45,000 km across Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. Overall, the project will cover 26 countries with Africa accounting for the highest number of countries (19), which will be connected to the cables with a massive potential capacity of over 180 Tbps over 16 fibre pairs. 2Africa is funded by a consortium including China Mobile, Facebook, MTN, Orange, Saudi Telecommunication Company (STC), Telecom Egypt, Vodafone, and the West Indian Ocean Cable Company (WIOCC). Another project, Maroc Telecom’s West Africa cable is scheduled to link Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, and Gabon from Casablanca.

GSMA’s State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021 showed that in sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of 1 GB of data is 4% of monthly GDP per capita, which is above the UN Broadband Commission target of 2%. According to the GSMA report, mobile internet connectivity stood at 28% in 2020 growing by 2% from 2019, but even then, an estimated 210 million people still live in areas without mobile broadband coverage. More than 300 million people are connected to the internet, and 81% had access to 3G, 51% to 4G with just 0.4% enjoying the latest 5G speeds to stream and run businesses.

In another initiative, Starlink expects to go live in 2 African countries, Nigeria, and Mozambique, before the end of the year. The SpaceX-owned service provides internet connectivity using thousands of satellites in space and announced recently that it has received regulatory approvals from both countries. Nigeria gave Starlink 2 licenses that took effect in May and will expire in 2027 and 2032. Starlink is marketing its installation kits at $99, there is then, as with any other internet connection, a monthly fee. In the US, Canada, and European countries where Starlink is currently active, the average user does not have device affordability problems on Africa’s scale. Critics have accused Starlink of providing an elitist service only affordable to large businesses and rich individuals.

However, other issues are also holding back internet take-up in Nigeria – recent data from the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) shows a 3,3% decline to 143,2m internet subscribers in February 2022. This could be the result of the government’s ban on the sale and activation of new subscriber identity module (SIM) cards in 2021. The ban is subject to linkages with the National Identification Number (NIN). The internet subscriptions are projected to decline further after President Muhammadu Buhari approved the blockage of any SIMs not linked with NIN. That rule came into effect on April 4.

Meanwhile, with an estimated brand value of $4bn, MTN has retained the top spot on the ranking of the most valuable African brands in the world. Apart from telecommunications, it has diversified its services into fintech and mobile money across the continent.

SAIIA is due to publish an Opinion Paper on the Digital Divide and the AfCFTA by Michelle Chivunga and myself soon. Watch this space!



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