There's a thoughtful article over on allafrica.com regarding what Africa can and cannot do with all the undersea bandwidth that has come ashore already or is coming soon. This summer SEACOM finally went online along the east coast, and WACS is due along the west coast in the next couple of years, which will add to the other 5 cables to provide an aggregate capacity of over 10Tbps to the continent. That's not much compared to what feeds Europe and North America, but for Africa it's huge. However, few telecommunications companies on the continent are at a stage where they can actually use it, and even those who are generally still serve populations with high rates of poverty and illiteracy. So will all that bandwidth just sit idle?
The way I see it, Africa's communications systems have had a chicken and egg problem for decades. They have had little access to inexpensive bandwidth, which has made it all but impossible to develop local demand. And the lack of local demand means that nobody has been willing to build cables to provide more bandwidth. Now out of the blue someone has provided a whole shipment of chickens, and they're worried that they can't sell the eggs. Stop worrying. The catch-22 has been lifted, and that's good enough for the moment.
It may not be easy and it certainly won't be geographically homogeneous, but the more creative companies in the region will find a way to take advantage of the new bandwidth. I am reminded of Beijing where everyone from the corporate executive to the migrant worker who recycles the trash has a cell phone now - a nice one too. It is a transformation that has taken only a decade. Of course Africa is a very different place at a very different stage of development.
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