To achieve universal broadband access in African countries will require a vast investment to bring an estimated 1.1 billion more people online, according to a recently published report from the World Bank Group.
The report – called Connecting Africa Through Broadband: A Strategy for Doubling Connectivity by 2021 and Reaching Universal Access by 2030 – was launched recently at the World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings. It estimates the cost of closing the so-called digital divide at around $100 billion or close to $9 billion a year.
The report estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa, about a third of the population remains out of reach of 3G networks compared to about two percent in North Africa.
The report suggests that achieving the target of universal broadband access will require the deployment of nearly 250,000 new 4G base stations and at least 250,000 kilometres of fibre across the region, not to mention the roll-out of complementary or alternative solutions, such as Wi-Fi and satellites, to reach the nearly 100 million people that live in remote, rural areas currently out of reach of traditional mobile networks.
In the main, achieving universal access to broadband connectivity is an infrastructure challenge: nearly 80 percent of all required investments will be directly tied to the need to roll out and maintain broadband networks.
However, an additional $18 billion will be needed to develop a digital ecosystem, says the report. This means investing in basic digital skills and local content to support development opportunities. There is also the problem of illiteracy, which affects over a third of the sub-Saharan population, for whom voice-based solutions and applications will need to be built. Also needed will be policy and regulatory reforms and lower-cost mobile devices.
The report argues that no single actor acting alone will be able to meet the 2030 target and carry the burden of a $100 billion investment funding requirement. It does, however, provide a roadmap and an action plan to achieve this goal.