Reshaad Sha, CEO of Liquid Telecom, details his thoughts on how to propel Africa’s ICT sector forward.
Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world today, with 20% aged between 15 and 24. Thus, the development of digital skills will be critical to both their future and Africa’s participation in the digital economy
This is one of the driving factors behind Liquid Telecom’s “One Africa” broadband network, which is inspired by the vision of our Chairman Strive Masiyiwa. The ambitious project has connected Cape to Cairo on a terrestrial fibre network, and increases the availability and accessibility to broadband connectivity and services to countries along the route. It is well known that high-speed connectivity offers many proven economic and social benefits — ranging from providing access to online educational resources and delivering e-government services, to enabling technology-driven innovation resulting in business growth and job creation.
And the more remote the area, the more potential benefits it brings. The “One Africa” network passes through some of the remotest areas on the continent, which me-ans it will be well-positioned to provide new opportunities to connect these under-served communities. In fact, the network passes over 660 cities and towns on its route, making high speed digital connectivity, platforms and services available and accessible to these areas.
The new network is over 10 000 km in length and yet, conversely, will be the shortest direct fibre route between South Africa and Egypt. It will significantly reduce the latency experienced on the sub-sea cable routes, many of which still transit via Europe. Of course, achieving this has meant overcoming some of the most challenging terrains on the continent, not to mention the threat of wildlife, limited power supplies and theft of equipment. This route forms part of Liquid Telecom’s pan-African footprint which spans nearly 70 000 km of fibre infrastructure.
The network will support the creation of new, and enhance existing, information corridors that link the region’s major trade hubs, thus playing a pivotal role in increasing intra-African trade. We understand that where there are improved communications, improved trade follows. This is the reason behind the next step, which is for the network to establish multiple fibre crossings between East and West Africa too.
Most crucially, the new network will deliver access to high-speed connectivity, which is the foundation needed for digital growth and innovation across the region. Africa’s start-ups are renowned for their unique concepts, innovations and ways of doing business. Thus, it is no surprise that many are experimenting with emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data analytics and blockchain, which have the potential to solve many of Africa’s most serious problems and significantly improve lives. The ability to connect with peers in the region will foster higher levels of collaboration and co-operation, thus supporting increased levels of innovation and solutions that are developed to solve key issues faced by the continent.
It is clear that the “One Africa” network offers a whole new way to support Africa’s thriving tech startup ecosystem and will ultimately make good on our belief that every individual on the African continent has the right to be connected.
Read more in the March/April issue of Fast Company South Africa.