In Africa wireless networks, mostly offering mobile services, have emerged as the primary form of voice, and now data, communications. While wireless network developed as complementary, mobile services to fixed services initially for voice but also for high speed always on Internet services, in Africa increasing numbers of people are accessing the Internet for the first time on their mobile phones, as they did voice. Outside of the corporate environment even high-end users, using more data-orientated devices like laptops and tablets, access broadband services using wireless dongles. The biggest ADSL market in Africa, in South Africa, only 22% of households with Internet access have ADSL services whereas there are 70.8% of individual users using a mobile phone to access the Internet according to RIA 2012 demand side survey. Further, unlike mature Northern markets ADSL in South Africa has poorer throughput than high-speed mobile services and is considerably more expensive (see RIA policy brief no. 2 July 2013).
The importance of mobile communications networks as the primary form of communication on the continent means that the expeditious use of spectrum is vital to the expansion of communications services to meet the needs of citizens and consumers. Although in Africa mobile is a form of connectivity for the majority of citizens, legacy priorities for spectrum from a time when wireless communication was only the preserve of military, aeronautical agencies and HAMS, or worse still arguably, governments sitting on idle or under-utilised spectrum are hindering its optimal use. As a result, African citizens, private entities and corporate companies, are denied access to the full range of communications required for effective participation in their economies and societies. Alternative regulatory strategies for spectrum management need to be identified because the adoption of ‘best practice’ models of spectrum allocation from Northern hemisphere mature markets might not meet local conditions for spectrum allocation and therefore might undermine the potential of wireless communications to contribute to economic growth and development in the African context.
To grapple with these questions and explore some answers Research ICT Africa has collaborated with social entrepreneur and low cost communication advocate Steve Song, to engage with Africans about what they would like spectrum to do for them and how this might best be done. Watch this space for his next blog!
Read the following posts by Steve Song:
This project is moderated by Enrico Calandro. For comments or contributions to the discussion, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.