Over the past five years, we’ve seen African telecom networks make enormous strides towards providing broadband services to more of the continent’s people.
Looking ahead to 2017, we can expect to see this trend accelerate, especially as technology companies like Facebook also invest their resources in bringing connectivity to more Africans.
Today, Africa’s Internet penetration stands at just 28%, but governments, regulators, business and the telecoms industry all see growing this as a priority. Connectivity is rapidly transforming the continent, inspiring people and businesses with the power to imagine bigger, better ideas. Connectivity is not a luxury for Africa, it’s a truly transformative opportunity to create a different and better kind of life for people who have been excluded from the digital economy.
Here are some of the trends we can see supporting the drive to get more Africans connected to the Internet:
1. Mobile-first innovation
Mobile technology is bringing about a worldwide transformation in technology, connectivity and accessibility; in the process, it is bringing about a fundamental change in the way the world works. It is Africa that will lead a mobile revolution that is unlocking new levels of human potential and creativity. People have shifted to mobile and we remain focused on helping businesses to catch up.
Africa’s young population and mobile-only mindset puts it in a perfect position to lead the next wave of technology-driven change. Because Africa is leapfrogging old technology, it is one of the world’s hot spots for mobile innovation. As one indication of how dominant mobile is in Africa, we have 93 million monthly active users in sub Saharan Africa. Of these, 89 million come to Facebook from a mobile device.
2. Digital video explodes
This year, digital video will explode in Africa, with the majority of people watching it from a mobile device. This is thanks to the falling prices of bandwidth and the affordability of smartphones with crisp, decently sized displays. This echoes the trends we are seeing unfold elsewhere in the world.
At Facebook, we’ve seen over 600% growth in mobile video views globally in the last five years. We now see 8 billion daily video views from 500 million people, which equated to over 100 million hours of video served every day. Last August, we debuted a new feature called Facebook Live. It allowed anyone with an iPhone to broadcast live to their friends and family. It ended up being bigger than we could ever have anticipated.
People are visual communicators, and across the globe, we see a shift towards visual content on Facebook, especially with video. And businesses also have started to embrace video for storytelling and brand-building. Over 2 million small businesses posted a video (organic posts and ads) on Facebook in April 2016. We’re also investing a further $250 million in virtual reality content on top of the money that we've already invested in the technology – which will bring exciting new dimensions to how people communicate, learn and enjoy content.
We believe that video will, over the next few years, become the way that people will prefer to share their experiences with each other, their first choice in consuming content and the preferred means for brands to tell their stories to digital audiences. African network operators must prepare their infrastructure to deliver the bandwidth needed to support a surge in video consumption.
3. New ways of connecting people
Around half of the world has access to the Internet – through initiatives such as Internet.org we are working with government and industry to connect the other half so that every person on the planet has access to the social and economic benefits of the Internet. We are particularly eager to bring Internet access to more people in Africa.
Africa needs practical solutions and business models to bring the Internet to as many people across the continent in a sustainable manner. In addition to creating a business model that works, we're driving practical innovation in the field as we learn.
We use a number of technologies to make this happen – our Free Basics partnerships with mobile operators, our solar-powered airplanes, advanced lasers, satellites and Express Wifi. With Free Basics we are working with operators to offer people free access to a set of basic services (health, jobs, weather, agriculture, etc.) to help them improve their lives. Free Basics is currently available in 53 countries and municipalities, including 22 countries in Africa.
What we’re aiming to do with Express Wifi is to offer people in remote and underserved areas access to affordable Wifi services as an alternative to sometimes expensive cellular data connections. We’re making good progress with Express Wifi, which empowers entrepreneurs to build a business by providing their community with access to the internet.
4. Connectivity is transforming Africa
Facebook believes that internet access means opportunity. It enables progress. It improves knowledge, economies, lives and communities. That’s why we have embraced the mission of finding ways to provide internet connectivity to the more than 4 billion people who are not yet online – including millions in Africa.
Over the next 10 years, we’ll continue to invest in the platforms and technology that will connect more people in more places and allow everyone in the world to have a voice. Through our efforts under Internet.org, we’ve connected tens of millions of people, based on our best estimate.
There is a long way to go and a lot of work to do in 2017, but we expect to see some great progress towards our ultimate goal.
Nunu Ntshingila is Head of Africa at Facebook.