Businesses and consumers in most parts of Africa now have a compelling alternative to the erratic Internet coverage that fixed-line operators in most parts of the continent provide, as GSM operators start rolling out strategies to become ISPs.

That's the word from Nevo Hadas, new business development manager of Systemsfusion, one of the world's leading suppliers of next generation IP services provisioning and automation platforms for large service providers.

Says Hadas: "Internet penetration in Africa is less than one percent, with adoption of the Internet hampered in the continent by a lack of fixed-line infrastructure. GSM operators, trusted by most of the continent's telephony users as their suppliers of voice services, are the best positioned companies on the continent to solve this problem."

He says GSM operators are well positioned to become major forces in Internet service provision in Africa since they often provide more extensive and reliable coverage of the African countries they operate in than the incumbent fixed-line telcos.

“To date, GSM operators have not offered internet access as the connectivity to the handset was too slow without GPRS or 3G. However the costs of these technologies are such that it does not make commercial sense to deploy them throughout Africa. Using dial-up acceleration tools, GSM operators will be able to offer their customers access to the Web and e-mail at more than usable data transfer speeds, notes Hadas. In addition, they already have the infrastructure in place to cater for payments from pre- and post-paid users, and the ability to provide high levels of customer support and service.

GSM services are also usually far more affordable than satellite services, which are currently the only option for Internet access in many parts of Africa outside of the major metropolitan areas.

"As GSM operators start to roll out Internet access offerings, many businesses will be able to support remote and home workers, and bring reliable Internet access to remote branches. In addition, entrepreneurs and small businesses in many parts of Africa will have affordable and reliable access to the Internet for the first time," says Hadas.

"GSM operators in Africa are rapidly transforming themselves from providers of voice services into providers of comprehensive portfolios of communications solutions. I believe that they will be instrumental in helping African customers to start crossing the digital divide," concludes Hadas.

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