Digital Divide in Africa and the Future of Digital Services 

A whitepaper published by Mobile World Live in partnership with UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) conveys the challenges of creating a thriving market for mobile services in Africa and the efforts made by several programs to address them.

A whitepaper published by Mobile World Live in partnership with UK’s Department for International Trade (DIT) conveys the challenges of creating a thriving market for mobile services in Africa and the efforts made by several programs to address them.

The paper recognizes Africa’s potential to improve the lives of the masses through digital technologies. It is also cognizant of the role of mobile technologies in Africa’s digital economy as has been proven in many countries across the continent. Many innovators are continuing to push digital boundaries integrating essential services such as access to energy and health with digital options. 

Africa’s digital transformation has been further accelerated by challenges brought on by COVID-19. 

According to the “e-Conomy Africa 2020” report done by Google and IFC, internet business in Africa could add 180 billion dollars to the continent’s GDP by 2025.

E-learning is one of the sectors that benefited from the lockdown as it emerged as a tool that reduces educational inequity. Another rising digital market is the subscription video-on-demand (SVO) industry, estimated to have 13.72 million users by 2027.

“Now, as the COVID era recedes, consumers, companies and governments are wondering how to consolidate this digital switchover – and even accelerate it where necessary.”

Although flourishing, Africa’s digital transformation is faced with continent-unique challenges. Most digital services ought to be provided by mobile phones as they are the most widely used personal electronic device. 

While this simplifies the digitization process, it needs proper adaptation to reduce the digital divide. 

The challenges of mobile digital services in Africa and efforts being undertaken as inferred by the report include:

·      Lack of Internet access caused by network coverage gaps – According to GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 47% of areas uncovered by a mobile broadband network. 

“Recognizing this, MNOs are investing in large-scale 3G and 4G rollouts in West and East Africa, including Nigeria, Mali, and Tanzania. And new tech such as low orbit satellites promises to bring fast connectivity to even the most remote regions.”

·      Usage gap – 3.4 billion people who have access to the mobile broadband network but don’t use it.

The usage gap arises due to affordability (high cost of smartphones and data), lack of relevant localized content, lack of digital know-how, lack of access to enablers (electricity and formal ID), and concerns for safety and security. 

Solutions like light browsers, short codes and USSD-based services make digital services affordable and available on feature phones. Innovations in finance that provide device loans are also key for addressing affordability.

·      Social and cultural exclusion – Africa is a multicultural continent with various languages spoken. keyboards in local languages are being developed. Contents need to improve their user experience and address locally relevant topics.

·      Inefficient or inaccessible payment channels – Payment services in Africa are largely cash-based and need to be digitalized to allow the provision of digital services.  

This has powered the invention of mobile money. GSMA’s 2022 State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money states there are 184 million active accounts in Africa. However, this is still not enough coverage and direct carrier billing (DCB) is used in some areas for content marketing. 

Read the full report here.

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