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Public WiFi in Africa

Sub Saharan Africa is one the few developing geographies in the world which despite being nudged by the COVID-19 pandemic, is still witnessing slow, but steady socio-economic development and upliftment of people’s livelihoods. According to a Pew survey, Sub Saharan African countries reported a median  of 41% people having occasional internet access across the population [1]. However, this internet access is restricted to frustratingly slow and ancient 2G internet access. 3G and 4G penetration was reported to be only 25% [2] .

These internet penetration numbers go further down if we speak of WiFi connections. Sub Saharan Africa is projected to be a promising story of a collective effort towards development of all humans across diverse cultures, but this success story cannot not be crafted alone in isolation, cut-off from the world at large. We know today, as a matter of fact, that the internet is a key driver of Gross Domestic Product. It accounted for 21% of growth in GDP in the last quarter of the past decade [3]. Going further, we do not have a clearly quantified idea about the transformations internet is going enable in the coming decades. The internet is a powerful tool, much beyond our comprehension, in terms of what changes it can drive and the opportunities that it create.

For a community to grow, there are several factors which play an important role. However, widespread internet connectivity is one of the defining factors that actually shapes the path and  decides the time it will take to materialise that growth. Pervasive internet access throughout communities cannot be achieved only through single user mobile internet because the infrastructure it requires is massive in scale and the investments therein are monetarily extremely demanding.

Public WiFi can help us solve this problem. It is way easier to create pockets of Public WiFi Access Points powered by mobile internet and domestic broadband lines than it is to use only mobile or broadband for internet penetration,. Public WiFi Access provisioning enables remote communities to use the internet at a much lower cost too as compared to mobile internet access. It was reported that one Gigabyte of mobile internet in Africa costs as high as $35, which turns out to be a whopping 8% of total income [3].  It is uneconomical to invest into something that takes almost 10% off your income with little to no returns. Public WiFi is an enabler of opportunity. It can help us to harness the potential that Africa holds for itself as well as the world community.

Africa has big challenges to overcome in healthcare, in education and in overall industrial development. Public WiFi can serve as a catalyst to aid and expedite the development process in each of these sectors.

Educated children lead the future, they make the future, they are the future. Education is another crucial issue that needs urgent addressal in the African continent. It is a saddening fact that only 7 out of 10 children in rural Africa will ever set foot inside a school, although primary school enrolment rates have risen, secondary school enrolment yet remain low [4]. There are multiple reasons to why this is the case, the major, and the primary one simply being lack of income, and secondarily, lack of rigid infrastructure, lack of teachers and safety of students. Now how does public WiFi fit into the picture here to eliminate these concerns? For one, an online community school run in the village centre powered through Public WiFi virtually eliminates the need to travel, the issue with lack of teachers is addressed. At any cost, education is the key driver that decides whether a community’s growth increases or declines. Educated communities drive innovation and create safer spaces for people to improve their livelihood.

In healthcare, access to Public WiFi networks can enable healthcare workers to remotely assess and provide & prescribe treatment to patients over long distances through WiFi powered community centres, eliminating the necessity to travel far distances to get good healthcare. Well laid out network connectivity also helps contingency strategies to perform better in distress situations.

Although there is progress at a promising pace, there is currently very low industrial and manufacturing presence in Africa. With road and transport infrastructure, access to internet is a key factor that expedites industrialisation. We have seen a trend across multiple countries throughout time, with industrialisation comes urbanisation. With urbanisation comes digitisation. However, planned digitisation strategies provide a roadmap for laying the infrastructure for Public WiFi in the future.

The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) forecasts that digital transformation will increase Africa’s economic growth by two percentage points per year and result in a decrease in poverty by one percentage point per year, it also states that by 2030, 50% of all African people will live in cities [5]. Cities in developed geographies have omnipresent Public WiFi accessibility. Public WiFi in cities adds a different dimension to ease of living. From allowing easy navigation to helping people understand their environment, Public WiFi has served all purposes. Nordic countries have many success stories with Public WiFi.

Digitisation has many functional aspects to it that contribute to its growth, it is never black and white and should not be seen as such. Several technologies lead digital growth, but when it comes to bringing communities together powered by reliable and effective solutions, Public WiFi can help, and has the potential to power this digital transformation.

As a world community, it is our duty to look at our fellow humans with empathy, and work towards a collective goal of securing better futures for everyone. The African continent is an optimistic prospect for the growth of Public WiFi enabling last-mile connectivity to remote communities. The absence of reliable internet dulls growth and slows down the development of countries. The African continent is still in its infancy stages with an optimistic forecast towards rapid growth, we envision a connected future for Africa powered by incredible Public WiFi solutions

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