Technology including giants Microsoft promised to help a population held back by poor internet service “leapfrog” into the era of online communications, with satellites set to play a key role as rival firms send thousands of next-generation transmitters to the low end. orbit.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, only 36 percent of the 1.25 billion people in the world’s 46 poorest countries are currently connected to the Internet. In comparison, over 90 percent have access in the European Union.
The ITU has denounced the “staggering gap in international connectivity” that it says has widened over the past decade.
The division was the main complaint at the LDCs’ UN summit in Doha, where UN Secretary-General António Guterres told their leaders that “you are left behind in the digital revolution.”
The digital shortage is particularly acute in some African countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where barely a quarter of the population of nearly 100 million people can connect to the network.
Discover stories that interest you
While major cities in the DRC, such as Kinshasa, have easy access to the Internet, the vast rural areas and tracts of land that rival insurgent factions have fought over for more than two decades are digital wastelands. The launch of thousands of low-orbit satellites could bring rapid change and raise African hopes, tech experts have promised at the Doha summit.
“Jump Over Other Nations”
Satellite coverage will play a key role in Microsoft’s promise to provide Internet access to 100 million Africans by 2025, which was set ahead of the summit.
Microsoft announced the first phase for five million Africans in December, and last week added a commitment to reach another 20 million people.
The first five million will be served by Viasat, one of the companies sending constellations of satellites into space to compete with terrestrial fiber optic broadband.
Space X and Elon Musk’s Starlink are also putting thousands of satellites into orbit 400 to 700 kilometers (250 to 430 miles) above Earth.
Microsoft President Brad Smith told AFP that when he first saw the 20 million figure proposed by his team last year, he asked “Is it real?” but now he was convinced it was possible.
“The cost of technology has dropped significantly and will continue to drop,” he said. “It’s part of what makes it possible to move so fast to reach this population size.
“African countries have the ability to bypass other countries when it comes to the regulatory structure for something like wireless,” he added.
“We can reach many more people than we could with fixed-line technologies five, ten or fifteen years ago.”
Wealthier countries have already dedicated the available bandwidth to telecommunications and television to a large extent.
“In Africa, spectrum is not being used, so it is available, and governments are working faster to bring that connection to more people,” Smith said.
Microsoft works with telecom specialist in Africa Liquid smart technologies to provide the second segment of 20 million people with the Internet.
Teaching online and digital skills to thousands of Africans was part of an effort to create a private sector alternative to “foreign aid,” Smith said, stating “we are optimistic about what we think digital can do for development”.
But the Microsoft president acknowledged that in many of the least developed economies, the private sector is “terribly underdeveloped and underinvested.”
Liquid Intelligent says it has 100,000 kilometers (62,000 miles) of terrestrial fiber across Africa but is building a large satellite footprint.
“In hard-to-reach areas,” said Nick Rudnick, deputy chief executive officer, “satellite is often the only or most reliable technology for fast broadband that always works.”