Report finds African telecom surging

Africa has made enormous information and communication technology strides, with 2000 proving a “watershed” year, as soaring mobile phone use eclipsed fixed-line service, according to a new report from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

“The penetration of telephone subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa surpassed the psychological milestone of one for every 100 inhabitants during the year,” the report says. “The growth in telephone access was largely fueled by mobile cellular communications. The change was so rapid that it has caught many by surprise. From just two countries in 1999, there were 17 African countries that had more mobile than fixed-line telephone subscribers by the end of 2000, more countries than in any other region.”

Sector liberalization, with multiple cellular operators licensed in many African markets, and service innovation through prepaid cards, have helped trigger wireless growth, says the report, which was presented this week at the Africa Telecom conference in Johannesburg, which runs through Friday. Internet connectivity and use in Africa also continue on an upswing with shared facilities such as Internet centres and schools becoming the continent’s main access method.

The 107-page report – comprised mostly of individual country charts and statistics – includes information from 55 nations and territories and paints a largely optimistic picture of information and communication technology (ICT) growth in Africa. The ITU, based in Geneva, is an international organization through which governments and the private sector coordinate global telecommunication networks and services. The report, “African Telecommunication Indicators 2001,” is the sixth such publication from the ITU for that continent, with the last published in 1998.

Tired clich