Internet surfing on cellphones in emerging markets is booming. Why? It’s two-fold – traditional fixed-line telecom networks (still) sport poor infrastructure with low, stagnating penetration levels, and then there’s the need for rapid, low-cost dissemination of information among wanainchi.
Reduction in costs, increased bandwidth and improvements in browser technology have made it easier to browse the internet from a cellphone.
Falling costs of mobile handsets have increased accessibility by putting these devices within reach of mid and lower income households. Nokia has long banked on the rapid growth of mobile technology in Africa, which is why they now have such a large footprint in the continent, and part of the reason why they are the world’s largest manufacturer by sales.
In developed markets, “data and voice-optimized” smart-phones are used to browse the net on the go; in emerging markets, “voice-optimized” cellphones are now being used more often because of improvements in browser technology, such as file compression via servers en route to the handheld, that make it easier to browse the internet from a cellphone.
African nations are also now really stacking up the bandwidth through various under-sea fibre optics projects such as TEAMS, EASSY and Seacom. Google Global Cache was also announced earlier this year to deal with the issue of slow internet in Africa. With all the ramped up advances in mobile technology development, fixed-line telcos are left to play catch-up.
Necessity really is the mother of invention. With adversity in the recent past throwing down the gauntlet at the continent, technology has arisen as a way to surmount these challenges through dissemination of crucial information to communities in the eye of the storm and concerned persons afar, harnessing this synergism through crowdsourcing. Ushahidi has deployments in Kenya and Congo. The mobile phone has emerged as a central platform for communicating this information through interactive text messaging, blogging, email collaboration and the use of other social networking services such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
Africa is actually competing with Western Europe in mobile browsing! So what’s to be said for telecommunications in Africa? The future, at least for the short-term, is wireless.
Photo credit: Creative Spirits, WSJ