Rural communities still lacking connectivity in Africa

The mobile revolution has failed to touch all parts of Africa, and lack of connectivity among rural communities is holding the continent back from becoming a member of the global knowledge economy. According to a survey published by Informa Telecoms & Media prior to the opening of the AfricaCom event in Cape Town this week, developing access to and adoption of telecommunications services in rural areas is of paramount importance to the local operators.

SIM penetration still remains under 20 per cent in a few parts of the continent, but even in markets where penetration reaches the 50 per cent mark, the level of penetration in most rural areas is below 10 per cent, which represents something of a problem when two thirds of the continent’s population resides in rural Africa.

Informa recently interviewed 200+ members of the African telecoms industry, around one third of which worked for operators. Around 75 per cent of respondents surveyed said that the improvement of access to and adoption of telecommunications services in rural areas is “very important” to their business. A further 20 per cent thought it “moderately important”.

However, the survey found that African players still seem unsure as to how effective regulators have been in the collection and utilisation of funds for the purpose of bridging the divide between urban and rural areas, with one in three answering “completely ineffective” and another third claiming it is “still too early to say”.

“The ICT industry has the capacity to help Africa’s economy boom but government and regulators must play their part. There are several challenges to overcome and there is now a realisation that in order to improve the adoption of telecommunications services to rural areas, the public and private sectors must work together in partnership. Only then will ambitious universal access service targets become reality,” said Nick Jotischky, principal analyst at Informa .

Informa’s Rural Connectivity in Africa research will be published in November. For those attending the AfricaCom conference in Cape Town this week, a complimentary report is available to collect from Informa on stand P81.

Access to power was a recurrent theme of the survey as a barrier to greater rural connectivity. When asked what the single biggest barrier facing operators in the greater adoption of ICT services in rural areas was, over a third of respondents cited power ahead of cost of ownership and lack of awareness. It’s perhaps a little known fact that the largest distributor of diesel in Nigeria is MTN, a company which has the biggest and most advanced fuel logistics infrastructure in the country because diesel is required to keep the network running.

As well as providing a platform for new organic growth for operators, connecting rural and remote areas presents opportunities for vendors across the telecommunications ecosystem. Over a quarter of respondents answered that the provision of cheaper devices represented the best opportunity for the vendor community, just ahead of network expansion (21 per cent) and use of alternative energy sources (20 per cent).

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