Speed is always a contentious subject, whether talking about cars on the road or delivery of information across a network.
This is none more so than when discussing Africa, where the continent seeking to integrate into a first world economy to drive trade, grow prosperity and profitability is still plagued by a lack of broad based broadband, speed of interconnectivity and basic infrastructure supporting communication to and amongst the mass and scattered populace.
Speed without properly constructed “roads” is both pointless and limiting. So, whilst AfricaCom 2011 will host discussion and presentations on LTE and the impending 4G wave, key topics on the other end of the spectrum, such as rural telecoms, connectivity and planning ahead for future progress will dominate debates at this year’s congress.
“The importance of reducing the digital divide in the southern hemisphere to ensure economic development is paramount to achieving sustainable global economic success,” comments Julie Rey, research director of Informa Media and Telecoms, the congress organisers.
“The provision of a working, yet dynamic infrastructure that encompasses the current ‘have-nots’ across the continent, allowing them access to education and social development advancements, is key critical to achieving this economic growth.”
The cost of communication has a direct socio-economic effect on business and sustainability – this is the common shortfall across the continent. One solution is the impending migration to digital which is parlayed to have far reaching consequences.
It should open the playing fields/trading grounds allowing for more digital citizens and bridge the knowledge divide, narrow the current information gap and redress prevailing inequalities in information technology.
This will ultimately lower the entry cost of communication and generate more businesses to contribute to GDP feeding into the global economy, but it is still incumbent on individual Governments to facilitate this cheaper access to communication to ensure that education, access to services and information can create sustainable employment.
The question still needs to be asked whether this is enough to redress the situation and leap frog Africa into the future or is it only just enough to bring the continent up to speed?
Broadband service is still limited across the continent owing to the lack of backbone infrastructure and when coupled with the shortage of competitive submarine cables driving the high cost of international voice calls and Internet connectivity, Africa is far from being first world in its communications.
Any major growth in ICT access has come mostly from the mobile telecommunications arena where private investment has been the main driver of the communications evolution.
However, affordability of smartphones to support attractive content, cost-effective services (what those services and applications should be) and, most importantly, how the role of the operator should evolve to support this changing telecoms, media and ICT ecosystem, as well as the development of skills to support and maintain the infrastructure, still requires significant in-depth deliberation.
“We anticipate that AfricaCom 2011 will provide the ideal staging ground for this debate with no doubt its own fair share of controversy and  we encourage delegates to attend this year’s congress to lend their voices to shaping the future of Africa’s economy where speed limits need not apply,” concludes Rey.