Mobile Communications

Web Video: Does Africa Get Forgotten?

The YouTube success story is all too familiar and perhaps this company has become the most closely associated with the rise of online video. It certainly catalysed the speed with which online video streaming became a phenomenon; the official statistics page certainly lists some amazing numbers:

  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • Over 6 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube
  • 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute

A key statistic on this page is that 70% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the US. I got to wondering what proportion of this could be attributed to Africa. Searching online to find a figure did not yield much, but my assumption would be that the proportion would be minimal in comparison to most other regions of the world. That said, a quick look through reveals that YouTube is oftentimes in the top 5 most visited websites in many, if not most, African countries.

Internet access in most of Africa is via mobile. In Kenya, for instance, the vast majority, up to 99% of internet subscriptions, are on mobile (here are the latest statistics). Thus, for online video to really pick up in Africa, mobile is the key.


Two key trends are potentially going to lead towards a boom in online video streaming in Africa:

1. Smartphones

The 100-dollar barrier has been broken (the phones are not bought on contract) and device manufacturers are figuring out how to bring lower cost smartphones onto the African market. At the same time, the line between feature phone and smartphone continues to blur as devices become more featureful and more and more capable technically. Many phones now come with a decent mobile browser. Currently, the penetration of smartphones in Africa hovers somewhere around 15-20% and is expected to increase significantly in the coming years. Thus, online video is becoming more accessible.

2. Bandwidth

Several countries in Africa have LTE rolled out and commercially available, amongst them being Angola, South Africa, Namibia, Mauritius, Tanzania and Uganda and more are coming. At the same time the cost of data is coming down consistently.

On the other hand, there are major hurdles to be overcome in order to fully realize massive consumption of online video content in Africa, particularly with regards to actual delivery of video content via mobile.

Whereas there are improvements to bandwidth in a few areas, the majority still have to make do with slower speeds on mobile, particularly in rural and remote areas where you can expect to find EDGE, if not GPRS. Delivering smooth, seamless video streaming to the majority of Africans will therefore require some innovation in content delivery. It’s not just a bandwidth problem, however.

Streaming via mobile networks presents the unique challenge of potential fluctuations and interruptions to network reception while someone is on the move, which is not the case when you have a wire plugged in or you’re using WiFi but in a controlled condition i.e. within a reasonable range and without much chance for things blocking the wireless signal. This is an issue on both low bandwidth and higher bandwidth scenarios.

A new innovation dubbed ‘Streamloading’ is poised to tackle the later issue. However, Streamloading, being built in the US, is likely not adapted for the kind of low bandwidth scenarios that one might find in rural Africa. It will take innovation in these very difficult kinds of conditions to actually come up with a solution that will work for this part of the world. And as Erik Hersman once noted: if it works in Africa, it will work anywhere.

One such innovator that has created an innovative way to deliver video content via mobile is Tuluntulu, a South African outfit. Tuluntulu’s technology can stream video over GSM networks in low bandwidth environments.

Making online video streaming via mobile internet in low bandwidth conditions will not just be great so people can watch more entertainment online, but could be a game changer in terms of delivering other kinds of content such as educational content, for example. With the number of teachers being insufficient to adequately serve the corresponding number of students, particularly in rural areas, being able to deliver educational material content via video could help ease the burden.


Will Mutua, co-founder of The Open Academy – Nairobi, (Twitter: @OpenAcademyNBO) social impact initiative that is seeking to provide solutions to higher and post-tertiary education in Kenya


« Snapshot: Microsoft Nerves Jangling Over Apple B2B Move


Social Technology Lessons Learned in Wine Country »
Will Mutua

 Founder of Afrinnovator

  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?