Monday, September 7, 2020

AfricaCom and AfricaTech 2020: Digital Playground - a Key to Connecting the Next Billion in Africa

 Africans aren’t always looking to connect to the digital world for work or health reasons; a significant motivator is leisure, or ‘timepass’, says Aubrey Hruby, who will chair a number of sessions at this year’s virtual Africa Tech Festival.

Africa, with its 54 separate countries, has large swathes of rural vastness, which has made it difficult to get connectivity to certain areas, along with peri-urban areas that are not served by terrestrial infrastructure.  Coupled with the high cost of data and smartphones, it has precluded millions of Africans from going online and missing out on the digital revolution.  But that is all changing, as too the reasons why there is an accelerated uptake of mobile first screen time. 

Aubrey Hruby

Much like their counterparts in other developing economies, such as India and Brazil, key drivers for Africans in countries across the continent  who are seeking access, seem to be ways to pass the time and be entertained, rather than small business development, food security, health and safety, or even education.

“Without doubt leisure activities are contributing to the increased demand for mobile data and streaming services in developing economies, as well as in the developed world…accordingly, many investors  are looking at film, music, gaming, sports industries,” says Aubrey Hruby, who has worked in the VC space and is a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. Hruby will be chairing key sessions on day two of the keynote presentations at this year’s AfricaCom virtual conference.

India is a likely barometer for what is likely to happen in African countries, in particular as a result of a lack of digital infrastructure on the ground that enabled Indian citizens to leapfrog direct to mobile connectivity.

“Millions of young Africans are digital natives and have gone mobile first, which follows the trend in India, where mobile-broadband subscription services exploded by over 200% from 2016 to 2018,” adds Hruby.

This staggering growth saw India’s mobile users top half a billion two years ago, and the key to this growth has been incredibly powerful smartphones that are affordable for the mass market… along with timepass content! Phones are now being used to watch video, play games, and socialise in ways that is changing the leisure time and life experience for billions of people in the developing world. It is estimated that around 90% of Facebook’s growth over the next four years will come from the Middle East, Latin America, South-East Asia and Africa. 

Two key factors for the industry to focus on are battery life and access to power to recharge devices, on top of the need to build products, services and advertising relevant to this enormous market. Another great opportunity for tech companies lies in spreading their base.   

This also means there is a requirement to rewrite the telco strategy handbook: What changing market conditions mean for African operators, which will form part of a panel discussion at AfricaCom.

“If you look at Reliance in India, they have added to their already diverse company holdings by creating a mobile network, Jio, that offers very low data prices for its wide range of streaming services,” says Hruby. “Just like Netflix is making a lot of its own exclusive content, so too are companies like Jio building virtual worlds of content and networking that offer ‘timepass’ for mobile phone users.

“There is a big appetite for entertainment and entertainment technologies in the African market, and a lot of serious US players are beginning to invest in the region,” adds Hruby.

When Reliance went up against the multi-national organisations (MNOs) by introducing radically cheaper data, it totally transformed the mobile market, as it became instantly accessible and highly competitive. The amount of data being used exploded in response to prices being slashed by as much as 94%. The market responded with games, video content and social networking platforms to fill the need of their new users, and as a result data consumption increased ten-fold. Indian mobile data usage is now almost three times that of the kings of consumerism, America.

The trend follows through to African countries where, according to research from Google and YouTube, many Nigerians for example, will enjoy watching an entire two-hour Nollywood show on their phones, as the second (and sometimes even first) screen for most African families has also gone handheld.

The Indian scenario is different to Africa in one key area, however - India is one country, while Africa is made up of 54 different nations.

There is no one-size-fits-all policy that will slot easily all across Africa, so piecing the regulations together to ensure smooth transitions is going to be a serious challenge for regulators and the big tech companies to grapple with. Addressing this issue, a panel discussion that delves into the critical role of policy in creating competitive telecoms markets, will take place on Tuesday 10 November.  Some of the topics that will be covered include:

·         How are governments and regulators addressing the biggest challenges in African telecoms: infrastructure, connectivity, inclusion, security, and shifting market patterns

·         Exploring the process of how policy is created, implemented and monitored across African telecoms

·         What potential does intra-African cooperation on policy hold for the continent’s telecoms markets? Are there better ways to work together?

·         Where is the African telecoms market heading and how will this shape the next generation of policy and regulatory challenges?

Other keynotes, presentations and fireside chats that address the issue of Connecting the Next Billion in Africa at AfricaCom 2020 include:

·         Rural connectivity case study: MTN Ghana & Huawei’s RuralStar deployment

·         Panel: Are integrated submarine-fibre-satellite strategies the future of African connectivity?

·         Africa’s Space Race: Can satellite solve the connectivity conundrum?

·         Panel: Universal ICT access by 2030: Africa’s Digital Moonshot Initiative

·         Can high-altitude broadband balloons connect Africa’s underserved rural areas?

·         Adapting spectrum models for rural areas

·         Panel: Public-private partnerships are key to connecting Africa

·         Internet access is key to media and entertainment growth in Africa

·         Fireside Chat: Nigeria’s National Broadband Plan 2020-2025


Virtual Africa Tech Festival, including AfricaCom and AfricaTech, is part of the Informa Tech Connecting Africa event series, now in its 24th year. A vibrant celebration of Africa’s diverse community of tech champions, Africa Tech Festival is the largest tech and digital connectivity conference and exhibition in Africa, attracting 450 exhibitors and 15,000 attendees in 2019. Key themes for 2020 include 4IR for Africa, Connecting the Next Billion, Digital Infrastructure Investment, Tech for Good, ICT Policy and Regulation, the Future of Work and Talent and Skills Development.

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