Google’s influence on Mobile Africa

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

Google has for some time now espoused universal Web access and is currently employing various technologies and holding discussions with regulators from Kenya to South Africa to try and open up access to the mobile Web. Africa contains some of the fastest growing economies in the world and the exponential uptake in mobile devices across the continent and access to the Internet are seen as key in lifting economies up the value chain and helping to eradicate poverty through financial, social and political inclusion. Africa however has suffered from a lack of technological infrastructure and Google is now trying to change this.

The Internet giant is planning on building high speed wireless networks in sub-Saharan Africa using high-altitude balloons which are able to transmit signals across thousands of kilometres. One of its first projects on the continent is a wireless broadband network in Cape Town using several masts in Stellenbosch university to transmit signals to 10 local schools. Google is also currently in discussions with telecoms firms and looking at establishing partnerships to open up Internet access to people in rural areas. There is no clear solution however on a continent with a severe lack of infrastructure and nobody is certain as to how the future will look. What is certain however is that Google wants to be at the forefront of developments.

Large Internet players like Facebook, Microsoft and Google often talk about the next billion people to access the Internet, and how the majority of them will come from the developing world and will access it through mobile devices. There is also likely to be a flood of cheap smartphones in Africa over the coming years and Google wants to be at the forefront of this through the production of cheap Nexus phones and tablets. Google’s dominance of the smartphone market is not itself a moneymaker. It gives away its open-sourced software on Android for free so as to increase the reach of its information-gathering system. Making Android free to developers has never been simply about opening up the Mobile Web. It is a way of ensuring that Google’s apps and services are used on smartphones harnessing as much data, information and add revenue as possible. Google now wishes to break into the African and Asian markets by reducing the cost of smartphones. It is doing this to exert is monopoly position in these, in Internet terms, virgin territories.

So, it is easy to understand why Google is helping to bring mobile Internet access to parts of Africa. Google’s continued growth depends on reaching new people in the developing world, who will be the next generation of its customers. Its intentions clearly aren’t completely philanthropic, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enormously beneficial to developing economies whose people are accessing the Internet for the first time.

Lagos vies with Nairobi to become region’s tech hub

Lagos Island and part of Lagos Harbour, taken ...

Lagos Island and part of Lagos Harbour, taken from close to Victoria Island, looking north-west (NB this is not Ikoyi Bay as wrongly labelled elsewhere) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bustling, metropolitan city of Lagos in Nigeria has an ever growing population of some 8m people and is the country’s economic powerhouse making a significant contribution to its overall GDP. The port city is a city of islands connected by ferries and highways and is the capital of Lagos State. The standard of living is relatively high compared to many cities in Africa and, despite problems such as pollution and gridlocked city traffic, people flock to Lagos from far and wide in Africa with an estimated 30,000 people arriving everyday.

Lagos aspires to be, alongside Accra, Cape Town and Nairobi one of the continent’s tech powerhouses. Indeed, May’s three day Mobile Web West Africa event sold out its Lagos conference, bringing together companies, startups, inspiring investors and developers. The three-day event was the background to the emerging economic and inspired power of the region, and is a statement of intent to be at the centre of mobile innovation.

There are countless examples of centres of innovation cropping up in Lagos. Co Creation Hub is a collaborative work space for young entrepreneurs and is dedicated to accelerating the application of technology for economic prosperity. Individuals converge in one space to share ideas. They even have the chance to meet VCs and angels looking for promising investments. However, such meetup hubs compete with others around the continent. Nairobi has the iHub, a similar space, supported by companies like Google, Intel and Samsung. Nairobi has also recently begun construction of the much discussed Konza City, or ‘Silicon Savannah’ as it is often called. This is a project to build Africa’s most modern city with technology and innovation at the centre and will potentially be a blueprint for further African cities.

In Nigeria, mobile is also being used to reach the poorest and help economic and social prosperity. A mobile SMS educational tool has recently launched aimed at providing primary school teachers with regular updates on educational content to assist with classroom teaching. Launched by UNESCO, the technology will be available to anyone in Nigeria and will send teachers messages with educational information and advice once a day. The project should reach thousands of teachers across the country, who were previously out of reach and simply lacked the resources to teach effectively. Mobile SMS is a step in the right direction.

In Nigeria, and many of the major cities in Africa, there is a sense that anything is possible and the continent is ripe for investment and full of opportunity. A lack of traditional infrastructure is helping drive entrepreneurship, in mobile especially, and suggest that Africa will be the continent of the 21st century.

Is Kenya Africa’s tech headquarters?

English: A lone giraffe in Nairobi National Park.

English: A lone giraffe in Nairobi National Park. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Africa is a continent that is young, vibrant and full of investment opportunities. Despite recent events in Central Africa, projects like iHub in Kenya offer an alternative picture of a bright future with a focus on technological innovation. Without the red tape and embedded infrastructure that can hamper European and US growth, Africa has been quick to develop solutions such as mobile banking. Africa may also be first in line to take advantage of NFC payments, which seem some way off elsewhere.

The iHub centre in Nairobi is an example of this ambition and is a tech community space providing opportunity for entrepreneurs to receive mentorship and potential VC funding. In addition, January this year saw the launch of the US funded Konza Technology City just outside Nairobi.

As other African cities such as Lagos, Accra and Cape Town jostle for position as Africa’s principal technology hub, it may well be Kenya that leads the way.