Use Of Mobile Internet In Africa

internetThe Internet is regarded as a global computer network allowing communication with millions of computer users and access to resources from around the world. It is a world wide computer network which allows communication in text, image, movie , voice, animations, and programme files.

Internet access has opened up many opportunities. It has made it possible for people to undertake online financial transactions (through groups such as Paypal); enabled people to do business (through electronic commerce); provided opportunity for people to further their education (through distance learning); provided access to medical information and a community of medical practitioners through telemedicine; and in advanced countries, brought the government closer to citizens through various electronic government (e-government) initiatives.

The world map of Internet connectivity shows that almost every country in the world has some form of Internet access. In Africa, however, while each African country is connected to the Internet, usage remains at a very low level, compared to the other parts of the world. In addition, outside the major African cities, there is limited Internet connectivity. Besides, connectivity charges tend to be higher in Africa than in the West. In addition, there is a high use of public access services and a high rate of shared accounts by users.

It is important to recognise and address the connectivity gap because information technology, and the ability to use it and adapt it, is a critical factor in generating and accessing wealth, resources, and knowledge at all times. Thus, access to information, communications and relevant technologies is becoming crucial to the life chances of people and institutions. Those without access risk being further marginalised as society become increasingly dependent on electronic ICT systems.

If Africa is to succeed in becoming a part of the new global economy, it must address the challenges brought about by the digital divide and provide all of its people with the right tools they need to be part of the information society.
So, how do we bridge the Internet gap?

Fact is, efforts to promote more universal access to the Internet in Africa have been discussed by high-level policymakers at several high profile meetings. For example, as early as 1996, the Conference of African Ministers of Social and Economic Planning requested the UN Economic Commission for Africa to set up a “high-level working group” to chart Africa’s path onto the global information highways. This led to the development of the African Information Society Initiative (AISI) framework. The document was adopted by all of Africa’s planning ministers.

Due to the overriding importance of Internet connectivity and the slow spread of web access on the continent, new and affordable ways to connect to the Internet is being explored. One such option is internet connectivity through the mobile phone. This has come to be known as mobile internet. It is one of the newest applications on mobile phones.

Mobile Internet is increasingly becoming popular because Africa is the world’s largest-growing mobile phone market. Today, the cell phone has become the driving force of globalisation in Africa. For example, in 2005, just 90 million Africans had a cell phone, Today, it is estimated that 1 in 9 Africans is a mobile subscriber.

The growth of mobile phone subscribers has been faster than Internet subscribers. For example, the last African country was connected to the Internet in 2000, the same time mobile service was introduced to the continent. Today, Africa constitute under 5 per cent of all Internet users, compared to the over 450 million mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa today.

The mobile platform is increasingly becoming Africa’s primary connectivity gadget. Handset technology has improved over the years. So, has mobile applications increased. This has made it possible for people to use the mobile phone as a multipurpose device.

The use of handsets to access the Internet addresses some of the PC connectivity challenges (such as limited bandwidth, costs, access, etc.).The age of the Internet on your phone is here.

To conclude, one can say that the mobile phone can be a powerful enabler and its judicious application in Africa could help move poverty to the dustbin of history. The mobile phone is increasingly becoming the platform of the majority of Africans. Thus, any serious measures to address the digital divide and provide Internet access to Africans will have to take mobile telephony into consideration.

Mobile Internet could provide the solution to Africa’s Internet future. Africa should do all it can to explore how the mobile phone could be used as a primary instrument of socio-economic development. Thus, African governments need to create the right conditions that will promote the penetration of mobile phones in the economies of Africa.

To quote the President of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame’s advice at a recently held Connect Africa conference in Kigali, Rwanda, in October of 2007 “ the barriers that governments put in the path of entrepreneurs need to be urgently removed. Individuals and companies create wealth, not governments. This is not to say that the state should become invisible. But governments should see their roles as enablers of business, and not gatekeepers that control and hamper it.”

We expect the prices for mobile Internet to fall quickly, due to the increasing number of undersea cables from the United States and Europe reaching the African continent.

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