The IT and telecoms sector has been one of Africa's great success stories over the last 20 years, but what does the future hold? African Business investigates the state of the sector in a 10-page special report.
The telecoms sector has been the great success story of African infrastructure over the past 20 years. The private sector has led the way in connecting more people, more quickly, than anyone predicted at the turn of the century. The infrastructure is now being put in place to take the industry on to the next level by promoting internet access, video on demand and the digital economy. It is difficult to predict the pace of growth but it is likely to be dizzying.
While the sector has not yet reached saturation point, the speed of adding new mobile users in Africa is likely to slow down. There were 960m mobile subscriptions on the continent at the end of 2017, although many users held multiple accounts. There is, however, far more scope for growth in the takeup of smartphones and the provision of internet access. According to projections by the mobile network operators' trade body GSMA, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa with access to the internet will increase from 211m at the end of 2017 to 495m by 2025, a rise of over 130%.
A great deal of progress is being made on connecting the continent to the rest of the world. The most recent subsea cable to be completed was the South Atlantic Cable System (SACS), which is the first fibre optic cable to link the Americas with Africa. It runs from Fortaleza in Brazil to Luanda and Japanese developer NEC says that it will enable data to be transferred between the two continents five times faster, while reducing costs.
"By developing and connecting ecosystems that allow for local IP traffic to be exchanged locally and regionally, the efficiency of networks that are serving the southern hemisphere can be vastly improved," said Angola Cables CEO Antonio Nunes in September. "As these developments progress, they will have considerable impact for the future growth and configuration of the global internet." Another similar project is under discussion: the South Atlantic Inter Link between Cameroon and Brazil.
New projects are also boosting capacity within the African continent, but while private sector companies have led the way on developing subsea projects, the multilaterals and Chinese government are providing a lot of the financing for terrestrial cables. In...