• Happening Now

    Thursday, 16 March 2017

    Google ramps up Africa investment with fiber, cheaper phones




    Google Inc. is scaling up in­vestment in Africa by laying fi­ber optic cable, easing access to cheaper Android phones and training a workforce in digital skills as the U.S. technology gi­ant seeks to expand on the con­tinent.

    “We laid about 1,000 kilo­meters (621 miles) of fiber in Uganda and we are busy doing about 1,000 kilometers in Gha­na,’’ Google’s South Africa head Luke McKend said in a phone interview. “We
    want to make sure that we cover all the bas­es. We want to train people and make sure that they have the de­vices and are able to connect to the internet.’’

    About one million people in Nigeria, Kenya and South Afri­ca have been trained by Google over the past year, yet many had to complete their cours­es with limited internet access due to unreliable coverage and high data prices, McKend said. The Mountain View, California-based company is now turning its attention to web-focused skills training for small busi­nesses across Africa, he said.

    Alongside U.S. competi­tors including Facebook Inc., Google is seeking to boost con­nectivity on the continent to prise open a new market for smartphones and services such as web search and social media. Younger consumers in sub-Sa­haran Africa are increasing­ly demanding quicker internet speeds and cheaper phones to go about their business, while local wireless operators includ­ing MTN Group Ltd. and Vod­acom Group Ltd. see the digi­tal space as their fastest-growing market.

    Facebook last month said it plans almost 500 miles (805 kilometers) of fiber cable in Uganda, while Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg met technology businessmen in Ni­geria, Kenya and South Africa last year. The company planned to launch a satellite to extend in­ternet access too rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa, but the plan was scuppered when a SpaceX rocket connected to the initia­tive blew up in Florida.

    Google, a unit of Alaphabet Inc. is running African trials for its Project Loon, which uses so­lar-powered balloons to connect people in rural or remote places. The company will also provide offline versions of its training courses in languages including Swahili, IsiZulu and Hausa.

    “Africa is an important and growing market, and we want to be involved in the entire eco­system and cover the continent from all the different angles,’’ McKend said.



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