African cell phone penetration rates are at an impressive 37 percent, according to a recent study by Ernst & Young. Impressive because a year and a half ago, at the beginning of 2008, the penetration rate was only 28 percent. That’s a huge increase, and it’s only going to continue — and all these cell phones are going to need some serious data connections. PC ownership is very rare on the continent, but cell phone ownership is booming, with a 49.3 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) every year since 2002. By comparison, Brazil and Asia have reported 27.5 percent CAGR over the same time period. Ernst & Young expects African cell phone market penetration to reach 60 percent by 2012.
As demand skyrockets, data providers are spending lots of money to install new pipes. SEACOM, a 17,000 km undersea cable linking the southern and eastern regions of Africa to India and Europe with 1.28 Tbps of bandwidth, went live last month. The $650 million project brings a huge increase in connection speed and reliability to the continent, and will serve up data to the millions of Africans buying new phones over the next few years.
And launching today is a new overland cable connecting India and China. The cable, going through the “inhospitable terrain of the Nathula pass,” provides connectivity with much less risk of problems due to natural disasters. Southeast Asia is home to a number of different natural disasters, including earthquakes and typhoons, and undersea cables can be vulnerable to breakage. One thing is certain: Everyone needs fast Internet connections, and the developing world is no different. In the U.S., we’re focusing on the last mile and getting higher-speed Internet to our more rural areas. However, we don’t really have to worry about getting fast data access on a continental scale. Something to reflect on next time you have a dropped call or two.
(Photograph of CS Tyco Reliant, submarine cable laying ship courtesy Tyco Telecom.)