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

"We laid about 1,000km of fibre in Uganda and we are busy doing about 1,000km in Ghana," Google’s SA head Luke Mckend said. "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 1-million people in Nigeria, Kenya and SA 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."

The Mountain View, California-based company is now turning its attention to web-focused skills training for small businesses across Africa.

Alongside US competitors, including Facebook, Google is seeking to boost connectivity in Africa 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 cellular operators, including MTN and Vodacom, see the digital space as their fastest growing market.

Facebook’s plan

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Picture: REUTERS
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Picture: REUTERS

Last month, Facebook said it plans almost 805km of fibre cable in Uganda, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg met technology businessmen in Nigeria, Kenya and SA last year. The company had planned to launch a satellite to extend internet access to 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 Alphabet, is running African trials for its Project Loon, which uses solar-powered balloons to connect people in rural or remote areas. The company will also provide offline versions of its training courses in different languages, including Swahili, IsiZulu and Hausa.

"Training people in digital skills has a larger economic impact than just making them more employable," Mckend said. "They also help those around them to get online and become job creators and entrepreneurs themselves."


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