Enterprise Mobility & the Connected Worker Blog

New Connectivity Solutions Bring African Nations One Step Closer to 4IR

by Emily Gove | 7/12/2023

As connectivity improves throughout the regions of Africa, there is immense potential for enterprise growth. The African continent, whose population of over 1.2 billion has the world’s lowest internet penetration rate (39%), is on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR): improved connectivity will enable technology startups and large-scale industrial operations to take shape, where former limited connectivity inhibited enterprise growth.

The first step toward 4IR will be building connectivity infrastructure. Connectivity businesses looking to grow their presence in the African market must be mindful its realities: implementation of rural broadband infrastructure is expensive and may be cost-prohibitive to individuals and businesses with limited incomes1. Providers, collaborating with investors and local governments, must leverage creative solutions to reach target areas. Below are four providers making inroads into the African market.

  1. Cassava Technologies has operations encompassing inland broadband, Wi-Fi, Cloud, cybersecurity, and digital platforms. Cassava Technologies has branded its initiatives the “Africa Missing Network” Project, through which it aims to connect underserved rural and low-income users and leapfrog businesses to 4IR. The AMN Project has laid cables across the continent, improving connectivity speed by localizing internet traffic routing. The program seeks to optimize fiber broadband infrastructure, implement Wi-Fi blanketing, and offer a pricing structure with rates as low as $0.10-0.20/GB.

    Cassava Technologies is headquartered in London and serves 31 countries in EMEA and the Americas.

  2. World Mobile, an internet provider specializing in decentralized Wi-Fi (DeWi), provides connectivity solutions that are collectively owned by users through blockchain. World Mobile seeks to provide affordable last-mile connectivity by leveraging existing infrastructure. It has successfully enabled internet access in Kenya and Mozambique by tapping into unused TV white space (broadcast spectrum). A recent trial used Starlink satellites to test coverage in Nigeria. World Mobile enables Wi-Fi connection through AirNodes, remote connection points that community members can purchase and profit from by selling connectivity to peers.

    World Mobile is based in London and active in the US, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zanzibar.

  3. Huawei, a global connectivity solutions provider, has made significant inroads in the African market through China’s Digital Silk Road Initiative. Huawei’s internet infrastructure has presented itself as a cost-effective way to improve nations’ connectivity and pave the way for smart cities. Banned in the US and much of Europe due to cybersecurity concerns, Huawei has been accused of using its technology to spy on a Ugandan opposition candidate and monitor proceedings of the African Union. However, Huawei remains the most pervasive and best-funded internet service on the continent.

    Huawei is headquartered in Shenzhen and is active in over 170 countries.

  4. Starlink, a network of low-orbiting satellites, is now offering internet subscriptions to users in Nigeria, Mozambique, and Rwanda, with plans to expand to more countries. Starlink technology’s direct connection to satellites circumvents the need for expensive infrastructural change, giving users access to the internet faster. Starlink has garnered concern around the cost of its solution, which has an up-front installation cost of US $599 and monthly subscription rates of roughly $43.

    Starlink is based at SpaceX in Washington, DC, and is available in over 50 countries.

Improving connectivity throughout the continent will create a foundation for people to move from being consumers to creators, according to Cassava Technologies’ leadership. Not only will connectivity enable new business operations run by African founders, it will also attract foreign manufacturing, warehousing, and logistics enterprises. Free trade zones like Tanger Med in Morocco have experienced record growth, attracting international companies drawn to the zones’ customs exemptions, tax exemptions, and simplified proof of origin for goods. The Tanger Med port increased throughput at a CAGR of 18% from 2017-2022, and has leveraged connectivity to enable digital vessel calls and a Port Community System, which centralizes shipment data. Strong connectivity has become a prerequisite for port, factory, and warehouse operations, which rely on real-time inventory updates. Connectivity-enabled operations will expand beyond free trade zones and open new operations and employment opportunities throughout the continent.

The Port of Tanger Med is featured in VDC’s Modern Logistics Port Report, which examines technology trends and mobile worker needs at ports globally.

Stay tuned for VDC’s upcoming Private Network Report for more information about connectivity and 4IR.

1Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) estimates that 1GB of data costs 8.8% of an average African user’s monthly income - this connectivity divide becomes still sharper when considering factors like income, age, gender, and location.