We aren’t particularly known in Africa for our internet connectedness, in fact, as you may already know, we sit behind the rest of the world in this space. But that’s not to say that some countries aren’t striving ahead in connectivity. Today we take an in-depth look at Africa’s most connected countries and some of the driver behind them.

One of the most trusted internet speed research reports from Q1 in 2017 from Akamai (who have 10 years’ experience in producing such reports), titled State of the Internet, shows some interesting results. The survey includes 239 countries from around the world contributing to rankings and statistics.

The world leader in connectivity continues to be South Korea, which enjoys an average of 28.6Mbps speeds around the country. You’ll attain the highest speeds possible, however, if you head over to Singapore – where highest average peak connection can reach up to 184.5Mbps. This means that you could download a 2GB file in just over a minute and a half.

For the fastest internet in Africa, you’ll be looking at Kenya. Kenya came out at the top spot, according to Akamai’s survey with an average speed of 12.2Mbps. With this rate that 2GB file would take 23.28 minutes to download. This is ahead of even the average speeds for Australia, for instance. The percentage of connections in Kenya that operate at speeds greater than 15Mbps is 30%.

You may like to compare these figures to South Africa, with an average of 6.7Mbps speeds countrywide and only 5.8% of people achieving speeds of more than 15Mbps.

Other countries with fast internet speeds include Morocco (5.2Mbps broadband, 5.3Mbps mobile), Namibia (2.9Mbps broadband, 3.8Mbps mobile), and Nigeria (3.9Mbps broadband, 3.9Mbps mobile).

The internet growth in Kenya is said to be attributed to the success of the National Broadband Strategy, which aims to have more citizens connected than ever before.

Kenya is also out on top for their mobile speeds – the highest in the region at a stellar 13.7Mbps. Providers in the Kenya region include Safaricom and Orange, among others. Safaricom touts itself as having “the widest and strongest coverage” in Kenya. They offer a range of different internet services starting with their 4G+ mobile network, promising speeds of up to 150Mbps in places like Nairobi, Mombasa, and Kisumu. Their 4G offering has a maximum speed of between 60Mbps-100Mbps. If you are after their fibre to the home internet, this offers the fastest speeds, with their Platinum plan reaching up to 40Mbps – the highest in the region.

This is in stark contrast to countries like The Democratic Republic of Congo (0.55Mbps broadband) and Somalia (0.62Mbps broadband), where it would be a struggle to even try and open a gambling website, like GamblingAfrica.com, let alone have the bandwidth to be able to play actual slot games with animations involved.

Connection speeds: A primer

However, when we’re looking at connection speeds it’s important to note that these are coming in from all over the country. Speeds may be higher in built up areas, and may be different from plan to plan and provider to provider. They’ll also depend on the internet technology used, as well as distance from an exchange.

Depending on the ADSL standard, downstream maximum rates can be as low as 8Mbps with ADSL (at the exchange) up to 24Mbps with ADSL 2+ (at the exchange). These drop off the further away from the exchange you go and depend on load. For 3G internet, that you receive on your smart phone, this can be up to 7.3Mbps, 3.5G up to 14Mbps, 4G up to 100Mbps, 4G+ up to 1Gbps (and so on). For fibre to the home connections, you can achieve up to 80Gbps.
These are the theoretical limits and generally are not a good rule of thumb to go by, what is better is to look at how far away from the exchange you are, the network load, and the technologies used.

Internet users by percentage of population

Another key statistic to look at when we are trying to determine the most connected nation in Africa is to look at the percentage of the population who have access to the internet. The penetration rate in Africa as a whole sits at just 28.3%, compared to the rest of the world, with 54% of people accessing the internet.

However, this isn’t to say that this is the case for the whole continent. Again, when it comes to this statistic, Kenya comes out on top – with 77.8% of the population online, mostly on mobile. Morocco is next for the mainland with 57.3% respectively, and South Africa, Tunisia, and Nigeria all rounding out at around the 50% mark. Interestingly, as it is named among the better performing internet speeds, Namibia has only 20.2 % of the population online.

Some of the least connected areas include Chad, Niger, and Eritrea, all with under 3% of the population.
There is still much to be done in Africa to help in the spread of internet service, and much of it will be to do with smartphone adoption rates, how the majority of citizens will access the internet.

It’s not all on the up and up

You would expect that as internet infrastructure grows and countries become more technically advanced that you would see an across the board increase in average connection speeds around the globe – and particularly in Africa. However, while you see huge gains in some places, take Libya, for examples, who had an improvement of 189% in their average connection speed, up to 2.1Mbps, still others actually tumble. Since Q1 of 2016, Liberia had a decline of 56% in their average connection speeds, down to 1.8Mbps. In fact, 35 countries around the world experienced a decline in their connected experience.

How other countries can follow in Kenya’s footsteps

One of the best things about internet services including mobile internet in African countries is that there are no legacy systems in place that companies already have vested interests in, like in the in the United States, for example (and did you know the internet is faster overall in Kenya than it is in the US?).

This means that we can use new technologies as we please, as there is no need to build off old ones – as they simply don’t exist. Rolling out new internet solutions in a market that is ripe for it may well be on the minds of savvy tech businesses – especially in the ever growing mobile space.

You’ll see a similar situation in up and coming Cambodia, where mobile use is soaring, especially among the young, city-dwelling population, and the mobile market space is now crowded – and speeds are high. Due to the availability of low cost smartphones, more and more people are able to go online, the speeds of mobile internet increase, and the cost of data decreases due to competition.

Smartphone use has doubled in the past two years in Africa, which is a highly significant figure. The cost to own such a device has halved. As more and more people adopt smartphones, and the prices drop, there’ll be increased demand for faster internet services for users. You can now pick up a smartphone from as little as $50USD. This makes owning a smartphone within reach of a much larger percentage of the population.

The other important thing is for government to really push for internet growth – they need to be a driver to encourage commercial growth. Kenya’s National Broadband Strategy really pushed their internet speeds, coverage, and saturation further with this particular initiative. Other countries would do well to study the strategy and see how they can adapt it to their particular circumstances.

And what about what it means to you?

Having the fastest connection speeds may be an important consideration for business purposes. If you are working with big data files, then establishing an office in one city may take precedence over another city. If your business relies on fast, reliable internet, then it is certainly something to think about.

If fibre optic broadband is not available in your area then you may find that mobile data is just as fast, if not faster than traditional broadband services. Mobile broadband in large quantities may cost a little more broadband internet, however, if you need the fastest connection possible it may be a better option.

If you are interested in driving internet services further in your area, why not get involved in local government and make it a part of the conversation? All it takes is one person to start something bigger, and you may just be that tech-informed person.

By Fundisiwe Maseko, published on the itnewsafrica website.