Focus Africa: Mobile Internet

There are quite a number of initiatives these days that aim at bringing the Internet to developing countries. From my point of view the ones which I think will have to most success are those using the infrastructure that is already there, the GSM networks. Satellites with local distribution over Wi-Fi might be an option in the future, too, but I think that will still too expensive and would only be available near the satellite downlink. Initiatives like OLPC and meshed networking might change that but I don't see that in the short- or mid-term. GSM networks in the other hand are already there today so I did some research into how available and affordable the mobile Internet is in Africa today.

There are about 300 million GSM subscribers in Africa today and a sizable portion of those phones should be capable of running the OperaMini browser. In the monthly analysis of the state of the mobile web for September 2008, Opera has a focus on Africa with some interesting numbers:

Out of the 65 TB of compressed data consumed by 19 million users in September 2008, 5 TB was consumed from Africa. That would be around 8% of worldwide traffic, or about 1.5 million users. Note that this is only a rough assumption as it's based on an average and doesn't take things into account such as higher or lower use compared to the average for various reasons. But the number itself is already quite impressive even though this means that currently less than 1% of African GSM subscribers would use OperaMini.

So where is GPRS or EDGE available in Africa and how affordable is it? I've checked in the countries in which I also checked for voice rates for the previous post in this series:

  • Kenya – Safaricom: They have EDGE in their network and even 3G is available in some places. I couldn't find prices per kb but they do offer a 3G USB dongle and the price per MB if you buy the smalles bundle (300 MB) is 10 Euros or about 3 euro cents per MB. However, USB dongles and 10 Euro recharges are probably only for a select view. Also, I didn't see any promotion on their web pages for mobile Internet use on the phone yet.
  • Côte d'Ivoire – MTN: They are promoting a EDGE USB dongle and unlimited monthly access is 15 Euros.
  • Uganda – MTN: Around 1 euro per megabyte, billed per kb. According to this report, Opera Mini seems to be involved with MTN's mobile Internet offer.
  • Egypt – Vodafone: They run a mobile Internet promotion with OperaMini. Daily access to the Vodafone mobile portal and 3 MB off portal (with OperaMini that's a lot) is 14 euro cents. According to this report, the offer has triggered 400.000 OperaMini downloads in just a month. Impressive! I am looking forward to the Opera Mini statistics with a focus on Africa to see what kind of longer term impact this has made.

Summary: While the mobile Internet seems to have arrived in many countries in Africa, prices are still quite expensive, especially for the region. But it's likely that things will probably change in the not too distant future and the Vodafone Egypt example is hopefully a trendsetter.

Are you using the mobile Internet in Africa or would you like to share your views? If so leave a coment below.