Internet users in Africa are experiencing a new drive by service providers to increase the availability of free Wi-Fi access across the continent in an effort to grow economic activity and improve education.
Countries all over the continent are benefiting from the trend. Rwanda's Smart Kigali initiative is creating free Wi-Fi hotspots around the capital to provide residents and visitors with more information. The Kenyan county of Nakuru, through a partnership with the State House digital team and county government, is offering residents free access. Enterprises are also able to take advantage of Nakuru's program in order to conduct business, according to State House director of digital media Dennis Itumbi, and students can use it to easily study and complete assignments from anywhere.
Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, provides visitors to its airport with free Wi-Fi access through a public-private partnership. Because of the level of Internet service at Lagos' Murtala Muhammad Airport Two, it is the only airport in Africa with the ability to display real-time arrivals and departures online, according to Steve Omolale-Ajulo, spokesman for Bi-Courtney Aviation Services Limited.
While projects in other areas are growing, South Africa has the largest free Wi-Fi program in the region, with both the public and private sectors in the country launching initiatives to provide hotspots. In fact, there are now so many access points in South Africa that a website was created to provide users with a way to find the spot closest to them.
Greater access to Wi-Fi offers increased opportunities
Alan Knott-Craig Jr., whose non-profit Project Isizwe has Wi-Fi deployments in three South African municipalities service 1.5 million people, says the reason countries across Africa are rolling out these programs is clear.
"The World Bank says that for every 10 percent of broadband penetration a country's GDP grows by 1.28 percent,"said Knott-Craig in an interview with The Next Web. "More tangibly, free Wi-Fi in townships allows the unemployed to look for jobs online and email CVs. Education is obviously the other major benefit of free Wi-Fi, as kids and older students can study online, download textbooks, and generally access information about the world."
Global management consulting firm McKinsey and Company has projected that increased Internet penetration in the region could contribute up to $300 billion to the economy by 2025 if the market grows in a similar fashion as mobile phones did.