Nairobi: Mobile phones will be the key driver of Internet connectivity in Africa in coming years as there are more people with handsets than computers, an official at global telecoms player Tata Communications said.
Most of east Africa has been starved of cheap and quick broadband connections which enable an array of new applications because they have relied solely on satellites links, which are unable to support some applications.
Countries on the east African coast have in the last few weeks been finally linked to other continents through the region’s first undersea cable known as Seacom. Another link called Teams is expected to go live in coming weeks.
“Mobile phones essentially have the ability to deliver the Internet into everybody’s hand. It is therefore going to be a huge driving factor for the demand for IP connectivity,” said Steven Van Der Linde, Tata Communications’ data sales director for Africa.
The highest growth rate of mobile phone subscriptions is in Africa, where a quarter of the population had a handset as of March 2009, compared with just 1 in 50 Africans in 2000, according to the UN’s International Telecommunications Union.
The Internet is the underlying technology for most voice and data communications presently, Van Der Linde said, adding that more and more people are buying web-enabled phones that support VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) and other Internet-based applications.
Increasingly, more applications around the world are based on the Internet and the web will soon be a household requirement throughout Africa, he said.
With the launch of Seacom on the east African coast, Tata Communications alone has increased capacity delivered to Kenya to 5 Gigabits per second in the past one month.
“What (providers) have been building up over the last decade has been doubled in the last 30 days,” he said.
Tata Communications is a global provider of telecommunications services, operating cable systems around the world and carrying 25 billion international voice per minutes annually, according to Van Der Linde.
The Indian firm has bought capacity on the 1.28 terabit Seacom cable and won a contract to oversee the day-to-day operations of the 17,000 km Mauritius-registered link.
Tata also owns a majority stake in South Africa’s second largest operator Neotel and is in partnership with Telecom Egypt. It is also in negotiations for a stake in the West African Cable System.