It is hard to overstate the transformation in access to communications that mobile phone networks have brought to African countries. Yet, a digital urban-rural divide is growing in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mobile network subscriber growth is slowing, as is revenue growth for mobile network operators, linked to the fact that a significant percentage of newer users come from lower income brackets living in regions that present challenges to operators, ranging from sparser population distributions to lack of effective power infrastructure. In order to achieve affordable, ubiquitous access for all, new access models that complement existing telecommunications networks will be required.
Historically, the deployment of a communications network required millions of dollars of investment to create the international connections, national backhaul and last-mile infrastructure to deliver access. However, the access landscape is changing. Fibre optic networks have brought high-capacity, high-speed networks to African cities, and new low-cost wireless technologies are putting last-mile networks within the reach of start-ups and communities alike. Enabling this access will require making changes to spectrum management so that it encourages bottom-up development of wireless access in underserved areas. Policy makers and regulators need to encourage wireless innovation from new market entrants and allow alternative business models to flourish.