Africa is often lauded as the next big thing for cryptocurrency adoption and development. But could poor internet access and connectivity slow down progress? A new report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) shows that it will cost $450 billion to connect 1.5 billion people – most of them in Africa – to the internet. African governments spend almost three times less than the global average on broadband connectivity. Then there is also the issue of low education levels, and high cost of internet-capable devices against low incomes. All these factors could combine to slow down the cryptocurrency revolution in Africa, a revolution that rides on reliable internet connectivity.
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Can Crypto Flourish Under Africa’s Irregular Internet Connectivity?
The debate about whether cryptocurrency can work in Africa could now be replaced by whether or not the continent of 1.2 billion people can possess the necessary infrastructure – and technical know-how – to allow virtual money to flourish unhindered.
Connected From A Young Age
Over the past few years, the digital currency ecosystem has grown rapidly in several African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, with bitcoin becoming quite popular. The wave of crypto adoption is widely viewed as key to driving economic growth and financial inclusion on the continent.
However, a new report by the International Telecommunications Union titled “The State of Broadband 2018: Broadband Catalyzing Sustainable Development” shows that African governments have a lot to do to ensure that the continent will benefit from the ‘fourth industrial revolution.’
Latest ITU data reveals that some 52 percent or 3.7 billion of the world’s population currently remain unconnected to the internet, with the majority of them residing in Africa. The scale of the infrastructure that must be built or upgraded to bridge the digital divide and deploy emerging technologies is huge – ITU estimates that connecting the next 1.5 billion people will cost $450 billion.
Unconnected in rural Africa
“National governments can truly make a difference in bridging the broadband gap by taking advantage of technologies such as satellite to bring reliable connectivity to unconnected areas and create an effective solution to expand internet reach,” says the ITU.
Bottleneck To Economic Growth
According to Internet World Stats, internet penetration in Africa stood at 27.7 percent by the end of March 2017 and this compared unfavourably with the world average of 49.6 percent.
The lack of internet access has arguably served as a bottleneck to economic growth, competitiveness, and development of basic services in countries throughout Africa. The report noted that only 6 percent of Africans have broadband internet access.
These numbers make for uncomfortable reading in the development of cryptocurrency on the continent. Virtual money thrives where internet access and connectivity thrive. Digital currencies will have to reach the unbanked in rural areas, where the majority of Africans reside, but internet connectivity is poorest in such regions.
The internet market in Africa has been stymied by the poor quality and relative scarcity of the fixed-line infrastructure. Currently, more than 90 percent of all