Africa must settle for more than basic Internet access
Seacom’s exhibition of “true broadband” speeds at the recent Sandton exhibition highlights an often overlooked issue with African Internet connectivity: it doesn’t matter how many people have access to the Internet if the connection is too slow. The text- and image-based Internet is a relic of last decade, although breaking news stories will never grow old. Still, no one can deny that today’s Web is about video and social interaction – something that Africans have as much a right to as the rest of the world. Africa, according to various statistics, has an Internet penetration rate of roughly 7%, although this number may actually be higher. Regardless, this statistic includes users who connect via dated dial-up lines or on congested public networks. Is the complete Internet actually reaching this portion of the population? The answer in short is no. Can the majority of Africans who are fortunate enough (as of 2009) to have access to the web check e-mail or read the news? Probably, even if its at mere kilobytes per second.
However, as demonstrated by Seacom, it takes a direct line to London to stream high quality video without waiting for the content to buffer. Cisco South Africa MD Steve Midgely certainly has a proactive opinion that will be needed if Africa is to become more self-sufficient:
High-speed networks are becoming part of the basic infrastructure of any country, and are vital to good Internet connectivity and access to broadband, which in turn will be key to the success of our telemedicine, education and safety and security solutions in South Africa.
Fortunately, recently laid undersea fiber-optic cables will alleviate some of the continent’s Internet congestion, but only in certain areas of certain nations. Furthermore, as a larger segment of the population finds Internet access in their town or at their doorstep, through various means, a more intricate broadband infrastructure will need to be laid out. Hopefully the “Year of the Cable” can continue into the next decade.