A major showcase for cutting edge information and communication technologies (ICT) that included an industry exhibition,Telecom Africa 2008, held in Egypt recently, presented a unique forum for brainstorming and an important networking platform for both governments and the private sector to chart the future course of the ICT industry.
Some 200 companies from 45 countries, including several from outside the African region, exhibited their products, applications and services. Around 70 heads of international companies and 50 ministers along with key regulators and investment bodies attended the event from 12 to 15 May.
While the exhibition underscored the latest developments in the ICT market, the forum sessions offered both regional and global insights on Africa's position in the ICT sector, its unique market drivers, and the host of factors critical in sustaining its most effective enabling environment. The 30 forum sessions covered topics such as public-private partnerships, entrepreneurial success stories, capacity building and cyber security.
A highlight of the formal opening was the launch of ITU's regional report, African Telecommunication/ICT Indicators 2008: At a Crossroads. The report contains an extensive overview of key sector developments, including a number of recommendations to sustain growth and deepen access to ICT in the region.
Addressing the opening press conference, Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary-General said, "Africa has been the fastest growing market worldwide over the last three years," adding that much of this growth had been stimulated by competition, policy and regulatory reform in most African telecommunication markets. "Today, the African ICT industry is an exciting place to be. Market liberalisation continues and most countries have established regulatory bodies to ensure a fair, competitive and enabling environment."
Growth in Africa's mobile sector has defied all predictions. Africa remains the region with the highest annual growth rate in mobile subscribers and added no less than 65 million new subscribers during 2007. At the beginning of 2008, there were over a quarter of a billion mobile subscribers on the continent. Mobile penetration has risen from just 1 in 50 people at the beginning of this century to almost one third of the population today.
Mobile subscribers are also now more evenly distributed. In 2000, South Africa accounted for over half of all Africa's mobile subscribers, but by 2007, almost 85% were in other countries. Mobile success, driven largely by competition, is also spawning new services such as micro-payment prepaid recharging, single rate inter-regional roaming and the uptake of m-commerce applications.
While mobile services have become more accessible and affordable, Internet access has not kept pace. It is estimated that there were some 50 million Internet users in Africa in 2007, translating into around one person among twenty. Over half of the region's Internet users are estimated to be located in North African countries and South Africa. In Sub Saharan Africa, only three percent of the population is online. The scarcity of international Internet bandwidth and lack of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs) drives up prices, making Africa the most costly continent for Internet access, with an average monthly Internet subscription of almost $50, close to 70% of average per capita income.
79 young people from 45 countries across the African region also came together for the Youth Forum. Widely acknowledged as the region's ICT leaders of the future, the Youth Fellows engaged in talks, debates and interactive panel discussions with a full range of ICT stakeholders. Speakers addressed this vibrant group of youth seeking to advance an ICT agenda by promoting youth rights in communicating and using ICT, the role of youth in promoting cyber security, and generally empowering youth to improve quality of life through ICT.