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Compelling relevant content can address internet usage gap – GSMA

Akinwale Goodluck, head of Africa at the GSMA.
Akinwale Goodluck, head of Africa at the GSMA.

Networks in Sub-Saharan Africa have proven resilient amid COVID-19 restrictions and impact on business across markets, being able to cope with increased voice and data demand – an indication that the industry is equipped to deal with the expected continued increase in level of demand beyond the pandemic. The solution to help narrow the internet usage gap in the region lies in compelling, relevant and local content says Akinwale Goodluck, Head of Africa, GSMA.

Speaking to ITWeb Africa on the sidelines of the virtual GSMA Thrive Africa 2020 event, which coincided with the release of the Mobile Economy Report, Goodluck said: “The industry must start to really increase the investment in new generation networks, i.e. 4G networks, must continue to ensure that there is coverage where it is needed, must be very nimble and this is going to require a lot of work from everybody. I am glad to say that we are seeing the right signals coming from different governments in Sub-Saharan Africa, we have seen different regulators also understanding the immediate challenges and providing the necessary support and regulatory action."

He referred to the release of emergency additional temporary spectrum to operators in some markets in Africa, the simplification of approval processes and regulatory reporting downplayed to allow operators to focus on their most critical function to keep the networks up.

Goodluck said this indicates the right direction but now the need is to consolidate engagement between operators, governments, policy makers to begin the immediate medium-to-long-term planning and ensure delivery in terms of coverage, bridging internet usage gap, services.

Thereafter there is an opportunity to scrutinise issues and barriers, including digital ID for financial inclusion. The expectation is that this will help fuel job creation and economic growth.

Internet usage gap

According to the GSMA, the internet usage gap is one of the most pressing issues facing SSA.

“There are so many people in Sub-Saharan Africa today who are covered either by a 3G or 4G network, but remain unconnected. So they’ve got access to broadband, but they’ve not connected to the internet. The pandemic has demonstrated that the victories of voice that we used to celebrate in the region, it is no longer a priority now.”

Governments have seen how business, government meetings, services, education and information sharing has all moved online.

“There is now an over-arching communal effort to get people to come online. And for us to bridge the usage gap in the region, we need to look at the barriers. What are those barriers? Its digital literacy, its affordability to a certain extent, it is concerns around safety, security and trust. And also to a limited extent it is coverage. But the most important thing is compelling, local and relevant content to ensure that it is compelling enough to bring ‘Joe Blogs’ the common man in Sub-Sahara Africa online and to keep him online. If we find that compelling content, then I believe very strongly that the issues around affordability and digital literacy will address themselves.”

The Mobile Economy Report states that Sub-Saharan Africa will remain the fastest growing region, with a CAGR of 4.6% and an additional 167 million subscribers over the period to 2025. This will take the total subscriber base to just over 600 million, representing around half the population.

Operator revenue is expected to jump from US$42-billiion to US$51-billion, while the mobile industry’s contribution to GDP is projected to increase from 8.6% or US$144-billiion in 2018 to 9.1% or US$185-billion in 2023.

The GSMA also announced that the MWC Africa 2021 is scheduled to take place in Kigali, Rwanda from 28 – 30 September.

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