ICT Africa Writer
February 28, 2013
On February 27, 2013, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released figures that show a strong increase in demand for global broadband services. Growth in demand is attributed to falling Internet access prices. But despite all the gains that Africa has experienced, especially through the growth of mobile broadband access, the figures indicate that the digital divide between Africa and the rest of the world continues unabated.
ITU’s The World in 2013: ICT Facts and Figures report indicate that the world will soon have as many mobile-cellular subscriptions as the global population, with the number of subscriptions expected to surpass seven billion by 2014. More than half of all mobile subscriptions are in Asia, which remains the region with the highest market growth. The report indicates that by the end of 2013 overall mobile penetration will have reached an astounding 96% globally, 128% in the developed world, and 89% in the developing world.
According to ITU estimates, 2.7 billion people or 39% of the global population will be using the Internet by the end of 2013. Unfortunately, the numbers for the developing world are still far from impressive - with only 31% of the population in the developing world expected to be online at the end of 2013, compared with 77% in the developed world. Europe will remain the world’s most connected region with an Internet penetration of 75%, while the Asia and Pacific having a penetration of 32% and Africa with only 16%.
Speaking to government Ministers gathered at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré said: “We have made the most extraordinary progress in the first twelve years of the new millennium…and yet we still have far to go. Two thirds of the world’s population – some 4.5 billion people – is still offline. This means that two thirds of the world’s people are still locked out of the world’s biggest and most valuable library. Two thirds of the world’s people are still refused access to the world’s biggest market place. And two thirds of the world’s people are still denied the extraordinary opportunities now available to the other third. Mobile broadband is clearly going to be a vital part of the solution, and we must continue to ‘mobilize’ to ensure that the entire world’s people have affordable, equitable access to the Internet.”
“Near-ubiquitous mobile penetration makes mobile cellular the ideal platform for service delivery in developing countries,” said Brahima Sanou, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau. “Our new m-Powering Development initiative is designed to leverage this potential across markets worldwide, and especially in rural and remote communities.”
Pricing is the key driver for the worldwide increase in Internet penetration.
The cost of fixed-broadband services has declined significantly over the past five years, dropping by 82% assuming Gross National Income (GNI) per capita. But in the developing countries, residential fixed-broadband services remain expensive, accounting for just over 30% of average monthly GNI per capita – compared to just 1.7% of average national income in wealthy countries. In most African countries, fixed line broadband is virtually non-existent and the vast majority of Internet users rely predominately on mobile connectivity. While mobile Internet is easy to deploy, it is significantly more expensive to download an Mb over a mobile network than over ADSL, for example. Moreover, the lack adequate terrestrial fibre optic backbone networks to support mobile networks also contributes to higher cost of Internet access in Africa.
Until the on-going fibre deployment leads to adequate national backbones, the cost of Internet access in Africa will remain high and limit the Internet penetration and therefore, maintaining the digital divide.