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On ICT Index of the ‘Information Society’, Africa lags behind
By André-Michel Essoungou
If you live in Africa and feel that your access to that speedy Internet is costing you a fortune, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has news for you: yes indeed, you are paying a hefty price. A report recently published by the ITU confirms that the continent is the world’s most expensive place for access to broadband Internet connections. Customers in Africa often pay ten times more than those in Europe for broadband access, the ITU says.
Access and costs of broadband Internet are two of the indicators that explain the continent’s poor showing on the latest ICT Development Index, which ranks 157 countries based on their performance. The ITU report, entitled Measuring the Information Society, is the fifth in a series published by the UN agency since 2009. It tracks ICT developments and analyses its costs and affordability in what amounts to “a performance evaluation.”
Despite some progress in a number of African countries, none of them feature among the top 50 on the index. Seychelles, the best performer on the continent, ranks 67th on the index. Thirty of the continent’s 55 countries surveyed are part of the 39 least connected countries, (home to 2.4 billion people) with particularly low levels of ICT development.
Unsurprisingly, most of the least connected countries are also lagging behind in efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The authors of the report argue that “ICTs can become key enablers for achieving international and national development goals and have the greatest development impact, and more policy attention needs to be directed towards them.”
Across Africa, a divide is emerging, according to the report. Some countries (Seychelles, Mauritius, Cape Verde and South Africa) have recently seen positive trends: greater ICT access and lower costs of ICT services. Three countries (Seychelles, Zambia and Zimbabwe) even rank among the 20 most dynamic countries over the past two years. ICT development has taken a greater leap there. Between them and some others (Central Africa Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea or Ethiopia), the ICT divide is widening. In this category of countries, access to the latest ICT services (including broadband Internet access and 3G telephone networks) remains a challenge.
Mixed global trends
At the global level, positive trends in the developed world obscure less encouraging signs in developing countries. In the space of four years, prices for fixed broadband services dropped by an impressive 82%, the report notes. While the Republic of Korea scored high on the ICT Development Index (8.57%), Niger came in at only 0.99% - within the possible (theoretical) range of 0 to 10. This measurement revealed huge differences in ICT access, use and skills.
By the end of 2013 there will be 6.8 billion mobile/cellular subscriptions – almost as many as there are people on the planet. But only around half of the world’s population – and a minority in Africa – lives within reach of a 3G network, which provides high-speed access to mobile Internet.
Similarly, use of the Internet continues to skyrocket in the developed world but lags elsewhere. More than 250 million people became Internet users over the last year, and almost 40 per cent of the world’s population (an estimated 2.7 billion people) will be using the Internet by the end of 2013. In developed countries, numbers are so high that the ITU now predicts that the double digit growth noted in recent years will slow down significantly.
In the world’s least developed countries, however, the estimate is for fewer than one in ten people to be using the Internet by end 2013.
African tablets rival iPads
By Nirit Ben-Ari
Tablets, which are light mobile computers, are currently in vogue. Because they are handy and easy to use, tablets are especially popular with students, businesspeople and professionals. Apple’s iPads lead the way in the tablet market in North America and Europe, but not in Africa. Tech industry analysts say that most Africans cannot afford the up to $700 price tag for an iPad in African capitals, although a growing number of those in the middle class desire high-quality tablets.
Encipher, a Nigerian tech company, is hoping to plunge into this niche by selling a locally made tablet for half of iPad’s price—$350. Inye tablet is the brainchild of Saheed Adepoju, a young Nigerian entrepreneur and founder of Encipher, a company that deals in computer products and services. First released in 2010, Inye, which means ‘one’ in the Nigerian Ingala language, runs on Android 2.1 and allows users to connect to the Internet by means of an inbuilt Wi-Fi card.
Inye tablets also function with external 3G modems from GSM networks. Encipher unveiled an upgraded Inye-2 in 2011. The newer model has a 9.7inch soft-touch screen with a battery lifespan of six hours. It runs on Android 2.2 and, like the previous version, allows a user to connect to the Internet through an inbuilt SIM card.
There is no reason why you couldn’t have multi-million dollar software companies coming out of [Africa]
For many Nigerians, the main attraction is that a tablet considered nearly as good as an iPad sells for just $350. However, even with such a low price, sales have been disappointing. The reason for low sales, Mr. Adepoju explained to CNN last year, is that Nigeria lacks widespread broadband connections to guarantee speedy connectivity. The country’s Internet connectivity is currently still very slow and unreliable.
Analysts believe that even if they cannot afford $700 for an iPad, there are many Africans who are hooked to Apple’s strong brand and may well prefer to save more for an iPad than purchase a locally made product. But as Nigeria currently expands its broadband infrastructure, Mr. Adepoju believes Inye’s sales could soon be boosted.
In neighboring Ghana, 28-year old Derrick Addae, chief executive officer of GIL Corporation, a tech company, has invented the ‘G’ Slab, a pocket PC tablet that aims to rival Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy. The ‘G’ Slab can make phone calls, has a built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Microsoft Word, and is equipped with most of iPad’s functions.
These kinds of innovations pave the path for more Africa-based technologies.
“Could the next Google come from Africa?” asks Richard Tanksley, entrepreneur and senior faculty member at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology in Accra, reports the Guardian, a British daily. He said: “There is so much
focus on Africa as a place to invest and to build businesses … and there is no reason why you couldn’t have multi-million dollar software companies coming out of here”.