Africa's a Mobile Phone Oasis, But You Can't Live on Water Alone


...The Africa-as-mobile-phone-oasis story is hardly new, but it's important nonetheless. African countries generally have some of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world, so mobile phone growth raises the likelihood that more and more mobile providers will begin providing data access. It's the classic leapfrog story: why try to dig up the entire continent to deploy Internet cables when you can get access through the airwaves?

However, it's also worth noting that we shouldn't see mobile phones as a silver bullet for wiping out Africa's digital divide. Internet access via mobile phones is wonderful - I go crazy when my phone gets out of data service range - but it's not a replacement for affordable computers with cheap Internet access, as was argued by The Economist and the World Bank earlier this year. It would be very tempting for us to say, "No need to worry about Africa's digital divide - they've got cell phones, don't they?" but the fact of the matter is that none of us who take Internet access for granted would want to be relegated to using mobile phones as our sole source of access. Try going about your day-to-day

business for a week with your computer shut off, using only your phone, and you'll quickly see what I mean....

...Different development challenges require different tools. No doubt, mobile phones will be near the top of the list -- but that list also includes $100 laptops, wind-up electricity generators, low-cost community radio transmitters, and the timeless ham radio....

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