Online Africa Weekly Top 10: made in Africa tablets, PayPal, new TV white spaces trials, and more
A few themes from the past two weeks of news headlines are worth discussing in greater detail.
South Sudan to get better quality broadband
The Minister of Telecommunications and Postal Services expressed a commitment to connect to undersea fibre cable networks via neighboring countries within the next year. Such a move makes sense considering how the SEACOM and EASSy cables have led to a proliferation of terrestrial backbone networks across Kenya and Uganda. A national telecoms regulator is also on tap to ensure licenses, spectrum, and other projects are well-managed.
More TV white-spaces spectrum trials
Unused frequencies are gaining more attention as an opportunity to connect rural and peri-urban communities to the internet. Within the past year, Microsoft has conducted trials in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, and South Africa. Google has done so in the Western Cape. The latest is an effort to connect schools in Limpopo, South Africa. Botswana and Namibia are next. Such initiatives take the right combination of public and private sector collaboration. Approval from the telecoms regulator is also crucial – and often hard to come by.
Made In Africa tablets on the horizon
There’s been great debate about whether a tablet designed and marketed in Africa but made in China is truly African. VMK, based in Congo-Brazzaville, will soon begin manufacturing its smartphones and tablets in the country. The move will create dozens of local jobs though there is no word on whether device pricing will change.
Internet Exchange Points discussed in Mauritania
The Africa Union’s AXIS project aims to keep Africa’s internet traffic local by providing capacity building and technical assistance to facilitate the establishment of Internet Exchange Points and Regional Internet Exchange Points in Africa. The latest of year-long workshops was held in Nouakchott, Mauritania with representatives from around the North Africa region in attendance. Notably, experts from the Sahrawi Republic were present – a great sign considering internet access (and awareness) in Western Sahara is virtually non-existent. Network peering is also largely missing in the region (outside perhaps Tunisia).
Boukary Konaté continues to strengthen Mali’s online culture
The Malian techpreneur promotes local languages and cultures on his bilingual, personal blog. A couple of years ago, he introduced village people to the Internet during a cruise down the Niger River in Mali. Now, Mr. Konaté’s latest project is “When The Village Awakes” – an online place to collect and share information about Mali’s traditional cultures. Technology is slowly eroding many traditions found in rural village life. At the same time, social media can preserve those traditions for future generations who would otherwise not be exposed to them. Follow the project’s progress on Facebook.
Togo’s government eyes a third mobile operator
A new 3G and 4G mobile license could be awarded in the near future to boost competition and raise investment in domestic mobile infrastructure. Such a move, in turn, is hoped to strengthen Togo’s overall digital economy. Plans to add a third mobile operator in 2008 and again in 2011 fell through, however, so nothing is guaranteed. Such a move would be welcomed in Togo where mobile broadband services cost noticeably more than in neighboring Ghana.
PayPal is available in four more African countries
More than 200 markets will soon be served by PayPal. Residents of Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe will be able to register for accounts and make payments. The caveat is that users in these countries will still need to have a card authorized for Internet transactions by the issuing bank. Still, this is a step in the right direction for encouraging African e-commerce.
Ethiopia fixed- and mobile-penetration at 30%
According to an announcement from the Head of Communication at Ethio Telecom, the company has coverage in 16,000 of 18,000 settlements in the country. Residents may still need to travel upwards of 5-kilometers to use telecom services. Compare that to a decade ago when people in the remotest areas were 30km removed from coverage. By 2015, every settlement will have telecom services. Fixed and mobile penetration stands at an estimated 30% – up from less than 1% ten years ago. No comments were given on the quality of service, however.
@iLab Africa research center launched
The @iLabAfrica Research and Innovation Center at Strathmore University was officially launched on June 19th in Nairobi, Kenya. The research Center was established to spearhead ICT research, innovation, and entrepreneurship with a mission of providing an environment that promotes technology innovation and business support structure and policy. Of the 82 apps developed in the Samsung-Strathmore research lab so far, 62 are already in use in the market. The main industry partners working with @iLabAfrica include Safaricom, Samsung, Ericsson, Oracle, IBM and Intel.
African music streaming services abound
According to a report by International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI), digital music sales in South Africa doubled in 2013 to 14% of the market. Better mobile broadband access is creating an opportunity for digital music distribution in Africa. With this happening, a variety of African music streaming services are vying for subscribers. Currently, there are more than a dozen African companies that offer similar music platforms. Each follows a different payment model, but most royalties to the participating artists. However, a large share of revenue is often taken by the operator, thus making it difficult for music companies and artists to profit. Music companies are slowly starting to win-out over operators, yet a lack of mobile broadband still limits the amount of digital music that is purchased.