Chinese Companies Bring the Internet to More Africans

Data show that Africa has seen the fastest growing of mobile phone users for many consecutive years. In 2013, mobile phone uses in Africa reached 800 million, which is expected to reach 1 billion in 2015. The increase in smart phone users is especially fast. It is estimated that by 2020 the number of smart phones in use in sub-Sahara Africa will have reached 525 million. However, when compared with other regions in the world, internet penetration in Africa is still lagging behind. The arrival of Chinese companies has brought the internet to more Africans. Chinese companies are playing animportant and indispensable role in Africa.

The internet has provided more possibilities for changing local lives

"Yes, I have successfully overcome Ebola. I am grateful to the brave doctors and medical staff." Recently Fanta, who was the first to recover from Ebola in Guinea sent video, audio, and text messageson health to epidemic-stricken areas via his cell phone. He also provided psychological help to Ebola patients via the phone.

In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, when 28-year old Ronald wants to remit money to his parents in Kisumu, he only has to press several buttons on his cell phone. In South Africa, Peter, a 50-year old farmer, is able to get information on cow management, nutrition, reproductive cycle, and milk production, etc. on his cell. Besides, timely update of information related to milk price and market channels helps him get higher income. With increased application of broadband network, African people are enjoying more and more convenience brought by the internet.

However, when compared with other regions in the world, internetpenetration in Africa is still lagging behind. According to the report "Information and Communication Technology 2014" by the International Telecommunication Union, by the end of 2014, around 44% of fixed broadband users are from the Asia Pacific, 24% fromEurope, and less than 0.5% from Africa. In terms of mobile broadband, the penetration rate is only 19%, much less than the 64% of Europe.

To increase broadband penetration rate is of high significance to African countries. According to a report by the World Bank, every increase of 10 percentage points in broadband penetration rate increases GDP by 1.38%. In the view of Mr. Wang Shunli, Huawei'sdirector of public relations for Southeast Africa, to increase broadband penetration rate is of special significance for far-flung regions in Africa, for it provides an equal platform to get information, hence more possibilities to change lives.

Chief engineer Dou Zhongzhao of China Telecommunications Service Overseas Technology Support Center told your correspondent that current broadband penetration in Africa has the following three features: The first is generally low penetration rate. Both fixed line network and mobile broadband are at a relatively low level of development. In Africa, only several countries such as Gabon and South Africa have 100% coverage of mobile network, in most African countries, the penetration rate is still less than 70%.In the greatmajority of African countries, fixed broadband penetration rate is less than 2% or less. The second feature is unbalanced regional development, reflected in the fact that most mobile internet users are concentrated in some more developed countries. Among the 54 African states, the top 20 countries in terms of mobile internet penetration rate have around 80% of mobile users. The third feature is rapid development and great market potential.

Chinese companies have brought advanced technology and inexpensive internet service

Abraham, who is in charge of planning for telecommunications and broadcast network in Zambia, told your correspondent that in recent years many submarine optical fiber cables have been laid that connect the African continent with other continents as well as land cablesthat link different interlocked countries together. The penetration rate of broadband network is expected to rise greatly in the future. However, Africa still faces many challenges in increasing broadband penetration.

Africa has a population of around 1 billion. In comparison, India, with 10% of land areas of Africa, has around 1.2 billion people. It means that in increasing broadband penetration rate, Africa needs to link more faraway and sparsely populated rural areas, which pushes the cost of investment up. For Africa, which suffers from power shortage, steady power supply needed for the laying and operation of broadband network is also a big problem. Besides, in laying broadband network, environmental protection is another factor that needs considering.

Some articles in African media point out that the mature wiredtechnologies and wireless technologies have their respective pros and cons in terms of internet speed, the easiness of application, coverage, power needed, and the steadiness of signals in the process of improving broadband penetration. Given this, African countries should take technologies best suited to the real conditions to comprehensively use various technologies to increase broadband penetration rate.

Dou Zhongzhao believes that to increase broadband penetration rate, Africa should focus on wireless coverage. Wireless network is less costly and easier to install, therefore, wireless broadband is more advantageous in terms of construction speed and cost. The market of wired network should tailor for high-end demands, such as municipalities, governments and businesses that give a premium on speed and quality. For far-flung regions in need of call service and data, satellites can be applied.

Wang Shunli thinks that to increase broadband penetration rate in Africa with the fastest speed possible, African governments need to increase input into the IT sector. Besides, African countries need to increase the use of spectrums. Many operators in African countries complain about their small shares of spectrums, which is the most valuable resource for mobile telecommunications.

Martin Macharba, a manager in charge of international calls and roaming of a telecommunications operator in South Africa, told your correspondent that given the lack of local technologies and talents, Africa needs to strengthen cooperation with global counterparts in increasing broadband coverage. In this respect, Chinese companies are already playing an important and indispensable role.

Take Huawei for example, which entered Africa in 1998, it set up many telecommunication networks in faraway areas in its initial period of development, while most Western operators before that had basically concentrated in more densely-populated big cities. It is fair to say that the arrival of Chinese companies has brought theinternet to more Africans. Besides, Chinese companies have also brought advanced technologies and less expensive internet services. Macharba said that the telecommunications networks built and maintained by Huawei or ZTE have reached most African countries. Smart phones of Huawei, Lenovo, and Haier are also very popular in Africa. In addition, China's experience in the fast development of IT technology also offers reference for African countries.(Ni Tao)


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