It is well known that the internet offers an exciting array of possibilities for individuals, organisations and states. Not only is it a door to the global connected market but it is also a tool that can enhance financial, political and social processes.
Worldwide internet access continues to rise year by year, but there is still a skew towards the richer, western nations. Africa is one of the only regions in the world where internet users still do not predominate, with under 40% of Africans using the internet in 2017. These numbers are rising, but how can they be accelerated?
SOLUTIONS FOR INTERNET DISTRIBUTION
Governments and companies are experimenting with a variety of techniques to bring the internet to rural areas, and it is useful to reflect on these in order to establish what kinds of projects deserve investment:
- Drones. Drones are small, remote controlled aircraft that are often equipped with cameras. Several big tech companies like Facebook have proposed using them as a flying wifi hotspots that can reach remote areas. In the same vein, Google is also testing out a fleet of high-altitude balloons.
- Satellites. Satellites are devices that are used for gathering information and communication from space. They are sent up in rockets and are put into orbit around the Earth, meaning that they circle the planet. Some of these devices, when their orbit is low enough, can be used to beam wifi back down to Earth.
- Cables. Fiber networks, or pipes full of cables buried underground, are also being developed and are already being used by a number of large cities such as Kampala in Uganda. Google plans to expand this service to Accra and Kumasi in Ghana soon.
Drones, balloons and satellites may seem more exciting than plain old cables. However, many analysts believe that cables offer a cheaper, more reliable solution. Many wifi-carrying drones are still in their early days, and are thus prone to malfunctions and crashes.
Land cables have already proven to be a good way to propagate broadband that has been brought to the continent in sea cables, running along the bottom of the ocean. They may be the best investment for now, until the technology powering drones and satellites improves.