Facebook. Picture: REUTERS
Facebook. Picture: REUTERS

US social media giant Facebook says its connectivity investments could grow Africa’s economy by $57bn in the next five years, with SA benefiting $14.1bn (R236.64bn).    

A new study conducted by telecoms consulting and research firm Analysys Mason found that Facebook’s investments in infrastructure and connectivity will deliver more than $57bn in economic benefits from 2020 to 2024 in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

According to the study, SA, Nigeria and Kenya are projected to benefit the most from the investment, largely due to server and undersea cables landing in those territories. 

As US technology companies are often very tight-lipped about their level of investment in Africa, this study gives a welcome insight about the size and scope of Facebook’s operations on the continent.

Like telecoms providers Liquid Telecom, Telkom and Seacom, Facebook has invested heavily in undersea cables, edge-computing platforms and laying fibre in Africa.  

It makes sense. While addressing the need to provide more internet access for the continent, Facebook is likely laying the foundation for next frontier of users. With more than 2-billion users across its platforms, which include Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram, it can’t add the next billion users if they don’t have access to the internet. 

The same investment interest in the region has been seen from other global tech players such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Alibaba. 

Analysys Mason noted that Facebook invests in network infrastructure, either directly or through long-term contracts.

Facebook has invested in the 2Africa cable system, which, it says, is one of the largest sub-sea cable projects in the world, which will circle the African continent, landing in 16 African countries. “It will triple the capacity currently provided by all the sub-sea cables serving Africa, further supporting growth of 4G, 5G and broadband access for hundreds of millions of people,” Facebook said. 

The company has also set up edge-computing centres, which allow internet service providers and mobile networks to access its content closer to their own servers, decreasing service-quality risk and reducing costs, especially for international connectivity. It has these servers in Johannesburg, SA; Mombasa, Kenya; and Lagos, Nigeria.

Facebook said 70% of its traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa is now accessed. Internet traffic is set to see a 9% increase by 2024 due to this infrastructure, and to generate an additional $53bn in GDP over the period. 

In SA, Facebook has laid about 100km of fibre, which has been deployed for Wi-Fi access points in Diepsloot and Katlehong, in partnership with operator Vast.

That fibre investment is estimated have put 700,000 people in Uganda and another 300,000 in Nigeria online earlier than they would have otherwise, said Facebook. This will produce an economic impact of almost $4bn between 2020 and 2024, according to the study.

Cell C partnered with Facebook to deploy Wi-Fi access to various parts of the country, starting with the University of the Western Cape in early 2019. The mobile operator has since put down 1,200 access points in municipal buildings, public areas and universities in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Bloemfontein.

gavazam@businesslive.co.za

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