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Survey reveals bridging digital divide between urban and rural Africa represents major growth opportunity

By Denise Duffy
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Mobile operators still face multiple challenges in the adoption of ICT services to rural areas

London, UK - November 3, 2010 - Connecting rural communities has become a major issue for the telecommunications industry in Africa, according to a recent survey conducted by Informa Telecoms & Media. 75% of respondents* surveyed said that the improvement of access to and adoption of telecommunications services in rural areas is “very important” to their business. A further 20% thought it “moderately important”.

Commissioned as a part of Informa Telecoms & Media's Rural Connectivity in Africa research, which is due to be published this month, the findings of the study reveal how the mobile revolution has failed to touch all parts of Africa. That this is the case is holding the continent back from becoming a fully joined-up member of the global knowledge economy.

“SIM penetration still remains under 20% in a few parts of the continent, but even where penetration reaches the 50% mark, in rural areas penetration is in most cases below 10%. This represents a problem when two thirds of the continent's population resides in rural Africa,” comments Nick Jotischky, principal analyst at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“The ICT industry has the capacity to help Africa's economy boom but government and regulators must play their part. There are several challenges to overcome and there is now a realisation that in order to improve the adoption of telecommunications services to rural areas, the public and private sectors must work together in partnership. Only then will ambitious universal access service targets become reality,” he adds.

However, the survey reveals that respondents from Africa still seem unsure as to how effective regulators have been in the collection and utilisation of funds for the purpose of bridging the divide between urban and rural areas, with one in three answering “completely ineffective” and another third claiming it is still too early to say.

Access to power emerges as a recurrent theme throughout the results of the survey as a barrier to greater rural connectivity. When asked what is the single biggest barrier facing operators in the greater adoption of ICT services in rural areas, over a third of respondents from Africa cited “access to power” as the single biggest obstacle for operators, ahead of cost of ownership and lack of awareness. Very low electrification rates across sub-Saharan Africa and especially in rural communities, where they tend to fall well below 20%, have a huge impact on the availability of ICT services in remote areas.

As well as providing a platform for new organic growth for operators, connecting rural and remote areas presents opportunities for vendors across the telecommunications ecosystem.Over a quarter of respondents answered that the provision of cheaper devices represented the best opportunity for the vendor community, just ahead of network expansion (21%) and use of alternative energy sources (20%). It is interesting to note that one in ten thought broadband infrastructure expansion via fibre represented the best opportunity for vendors, more than the use of satellite or indeed VAS.

A complimentary report, titled a Rural Connectivity in Africa, is available to collect from Informa Telecoms & Media on stand P81 at AfricaCom ( in Cape Town, South Africa next week.