IDG Connect, (UK) - The Global IT Series, Part 1: Africa

Only last September, Winston, an 11-month-old carrier pigeon proved quicker at transmitting data over a 60-mile distance than the internet in one African country. This wasn't Guinea, Burundi or Liberia* - it was South Africa: the nation with the largest economy and the fourth highest web usage on the continent. The situation is plain: Kilimanjaro to Niger Basin; Sahara to Cape, the pace of IT development has been systematically slowed by the speed of the internet. That is - until now...

Finally, technology is gaining momentum. From three sea-bound sides: south, east and west, great undersea fibre optic cables are starting to bring the kind of instant communication that the rest of the world has learnt to expect. Soon, via new high speed broadband previously underdeveloped areas of Africa will have real time access to YouTube, Facebook and Ebay; they will be able to fully utilise BPO, virtualisation and cloud computing. The benefits of joining the modern business world could well be astonishing.

Already Africa is a hub of innovation - an ‘economic incubator'. Many products and services trialled in the region - like mobile phone banking - go on to reach the international marketplace. There are numerous opportunities for development, and companies are competing for ascendency. This year Vodafone, in conjunction with Opera, is launching a mini-browser, which aims to bring mobile internet to emerging markets. Claiming to compress data by up to 90%, this will shortly be rolled out in Egypt, South Africa and Tanzania.

Changes in IT are giving citizens access to more information, possibilities - and ultimately freedom. This is causing political ripples throughout the continent. Many African governments are now desperate to regulate ICT, and this year broadcast restrictions will be enforced, through mandatory SIM card registration. However, experts believe that the time has arrived when democracy and human rights activists will finally join hands with ICT companies to push back against state interference in the market.

Metamorphosis is bringing a change of image to continent. Now the World Cup in South Africa is casting a huge neon spotlight on the whole region: the old stock footage is slowly being replaced by images of shiny new stadiums; the perception of extreme poverty is gradually being superseded by tiers of agile professionals. The world is turning its gaze on Africa's so-called ‘creative class': a new generation of savvy young African entrepreneurs and thinkers. These are drawing on the rising urbanisation and greater international travel to explore African culture in an explosion in media, fashion, literature, music and design.

Of course, there is a downside to all these technological developments. A continent once largely ignored by Rootkits, Trojans and Worms is suddenly experiencing a glut of security threats. Malware is set to become ever more sophisticated. Advances in file contamination methods mean many antivirus programs are experiencing real difficulties treating infected computers. Yet these are problems rife in Europe, North America and Australia and are in fact an inevitable symptom of progress.

IDG Connect's series on Africa is set to continue throughout the Summer:

* Internet World Stats: Guinea, Burundi and Liberia all have less than 1% internet penetration rates.

Based in Africa? What do you think the biggest challenges for your unique region will be over the next 18 months? Please comment below - or if you would like to submit a blog post simply email the editor.


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