Africa surpasses 4 million Net users

Africa has surpassed the 4 million mark for Internet users, according to figures recently released by a South African Internet researcher.

“The Internet has continued to grow rapidly in Africa, reaching some important milestones over the last 12 months,” said researcher Mike Jensen in a new report. Last November, Eritrea got a local Internet connection, bringing a total of 54 countries and territories online. Last year, the number of dial-up Internet subscribers passed the 1 million mark and total continental bandwidth capacity reached over 1GB per second.

Arriving at the number of Internet users in Africa is not an easy undertaking because, unlike other parts of the world, most Africans share dial-up connections. Figures for dial-up ISP (Internet service provider) subscribers are more readily available, Jensen said.

It is estimated that there are now more than 1.3 million such subscribers in Africa. Of those, about 250,000 are in North Africa, with 750,000 in South Africa and about 300,000 in the remaining 50 African countries. But each computer with an Internet or e-mail connection usually supports three to five users, putting the current estimate of the total of African Internet users at somewhere around 4 million, with about 1.5 million outside of South Africa.

This works out to about one Internet user for every 200 people, compared to a world average of about one user for every 30 people.

The African average is lower than the world average, but the figures are encouraging in terms of the speed of Net expansion in Africa, he said, citing United Nations Development Program statistics. Further expansion is expected as Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation with about a fifth of the sub-Saharan population, begins to move more quickly to connect to the Internet.

After many years of relative inactivity, the opening of the Nigerian Internet market is just beginning to affect the continent, Jensen has found. The Nigerian telecommunication regulator has licensed more than 40 ISPs to sell services, but only about 15 are currently active. However, many of those ISPs now operate their own VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) links directly into the U.S. Internet backbone and broadband wireless links are now available. Nigeria Telecoms (Nitel) also has now established a POP (point of presence) in Lagos and has POPs in four other cities.

Although the Internet connectivity figures are overall more encouraging, most subscribers are in major cities, where a minority of the population live. More countries do have POPs in secondary towns and in South Africa about 100 cities and towns have POPs, bringing the total across the continent to about 250. Rapid growth in major cities will have a spill-over effect on rural areas, Jensen found.