Broadband is considered the next great frontier of telecommunications in emerging markets. But what is the best way to deliver it in Africa? A recently-launched policy paper, Making Broadband Accessible For All, suggests there are some big decisions ahead.
Mobile phones have transformed telecommunications in Africa and there are expectations that broadband could take communications to new heights on the continent.
However, the debate continues about the most effective strategy of extending broadband access beyond affluent urban users to the wider population.
The Vodafone-sponsored policy paper, Making Broadband Accessible For All was recently launched at LSE and hosted by the LSE’s media think-tank POLIS and it addressed this issue.
In the paper, economist Diane Coyle OBE and associate fellow of the Oxford Internet Institute Howard Williams were keen to stay away from the traditional definition of broadband which tends to have a “narrow focus on bandwidth and speed”. Instead they stated that “broadband should be seen as the capability to deliver data and foster innovation, rather than a specific data transfer speed and still less a specific technology”.
Broadband strategies have so far been focussed on developing fibre networks. However, the general consensus of all the researchers was that mobile broadband was the way forward.
This is because along with the huge success of mobiles on the African continent, mobile internet is spreading rapidly. This is in contrast to fixed internet access which is “stagnant”. Besmu, an accountancy student in Kenya told researchers that mobile internet use was part of a wider social shift.
“It’s changing because it’s favouring the poor. Long time ago, when it came, only the rich would access it but now even the poor can access it.”
This is a billion dollar issue. If African governments choose an inappropriate technology then it could mean they don’t have the right infrastructure for the next generation of communications.
The paper also came to the conclusion it would be wrong for the same broadband policies that have been successful in developed markets to be applied to emerging markets.
Rather the critical issue in achieving the goal of universal access to data services is affordability.
The paper also expressed the desire to see more research looking at the social and economic impact of broadband in emerging markets.
Making Broadband Accessible For All is the twelfth in the Vodafone series of Policy Papers.