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The digital future of Africa

23 Feb 2021
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Vinod Kumar

CEO, Vodafone Business

Sub-Saharan Africa alone is home to more than 1 billion people, half of whom will be under 25 years old by 2050.1

The region is incredibly diverse, and a vibrant hub for innovation and talent. It’s also the home of South Africa, the continent's first 5G nation2, which is full of young entrepreneurs, businesses quickly digitalising and embracing Cloud, Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies like SD-WAN.

But Africa is not just South Africa. And as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy of the continent becomes clear, businesses, governments and people need to come together and find a path to unlock Africa’s recovery.

The African Union Commissioner Amani Abou-Zeid said: “COVID-19 crisis has become the single biggest catalyst for digital transformation and has moved digitalisation from a niche market into mass adoption"; and a recent report by the UN Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development estimated a broadband expansion of 10% would yield a 2.5% increase in GDP per capita.

So one thing is for sure: the current crisis has highlighted how, more than ever, resilience and digitalisation, and ultimately growth, go hand-in-hand.  And how important connectivity is to keep businesses and the world running whilst people have been forced to stay apart.

Access is everything

At Vodafone Business we believe in a connected digital society that helps improve people's lives, connecting people and business.

By extending coverage and the quality of our network, facilitating access to smart devices, driving pricing transformation, and promoting financial inclusion in Africa, we want to unlock opportunities and ultimately create the framework where people and businesses of any size can thrive.

Our customers share this purpose and they see digitalisation as a necessary step to make their businesses future-ready.

However, offering access to digital services that can rely on consistent connectivity is not a small feat in Africa. There are 54 countries on the continent and we are present in 47 of them. Our customers often operate inter-regionally and they expect the same level of service no matter where they are, making consistency, cost control and predictability vital.

This is why last year we extended our connectivity to partners and clients in 12 new countries in the Middle East region and we also announced our participation in the world’s largest subsea cable project  - 2Africa. This will deliver much-needed internet capacity and reliability in many African countries and underpin the further growth of 4G, 5G and fixed broadband access for hundreds of millions of people.

Digital society

When I talk to our customers that operate in Africa, many emphasise the importance of creating a digital ecosystem around their operations, a system that includes both infrastructure, businesses and people, as an essential condition for further development.

Over the years Vodacom Business has worked hard to provide this framework and during the Covid-19 pandemic, we have accelerated plans, providing business support, both financial and practical to those in need and promoting regional cooperation between the private sector, governments and civil society in this time of crisis.

In Ghana, for instance, we created a service called ‘Your Business Online’, offering support to businesses to build and grow digitally at a time when they need to reach a wider customer base.

In South Africa, we launched VodaLend, an easy way for small and medium business to access the funding they need to grow.

Vodacom Business has also launched partnerships with AWS and Crayon Africa to support African businesses’ move to the Cloud, an essential tool to keep businesses going during the pandemic.

And last summer we teamed up with Microsoft to create a connected digital platform for students and educators in South Africa, which combines high-quality remote learning with low-cost connectivity, addressing the need for affordable online learning resources in this time of crisis.

Customer-centric

So how do we help global and local businesses feel confident to invest more in Africa?

If a large multinational business wants to invest in Africa today, they need to know they will be able to replicate their operation in European or North American countries without having to reinvent the wheel. For instance, a smart cabinet for refrigerated food that is used in London is expected to be equally functional in Dodoma.

The digitalisation of customer experience is also an important aspect to consider. Technology helps businesses be more flexible in responding to customer demands. With 71% of South African IoT adopters saying they increased the pace of IoT projects during the pandemic, guaranteeing that quality of service that allows them to thrive and connect to their customers is essential for us as a tech company.

That’s why we are investing considerably to create a fully integrated next-generation fixed and mobile network across the continent. This enables us to offer an Africa-wide complete range of secure, dependable and innovative services, and it helps businesses on their future-proofing journey.

Building a sustainable, digital future for business

Businesses that invest in African countries today know they are dealing with a growing customer base that expects the local businesses and global brands they buy from to be socially and environmentally responsible.

For instance, our recent Future Ready Report showed 69% of South African businesses rate sustainability as vital or important for their organisation. However, only 28% of businesses have a clearly defined strategy to invest in sustainability.

At the same time, the IoT Spotlight found that IoT data is helping 88% of South African businesses meet their sustainability goals.

This suggests we have a great opportunity, not just in South Africa but across the African continent, to put our technology and international expertise at the service of businesses, so they can become the best possible future ready version of themselves.

Together, we can build the Africa of the future: digital, connected, inclusive and green.

Learn more about the work we do in Africa and our commitment to building a greener, more sustainable environment.

[1] https://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/overview

[2] Vodacom launched Africa's first live 5G network which supports both mobile and fixed wireless services in 2020

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