Petrol powers mobiles across African continent

Three out of the seven billion people on the planet still lack basic services, said Andile Ngcaba, the CEO of investment firm Convergence. And that’s having an impact on the way people use technology.

The South African entrepreneur said that in 1990 there were more telephones in Manhattan than in the entire African continent. Africa has just over 700 million mobile phones and a population of around a billion people, although the entire territories of the USA, China, India and Europe could fit into the continent’s boundaries.

Of the billion people who live there, 65 percent live rurally, 68 percent use Twitter to monitor news, and there are over 49 million African users, he said.

In rural Africa connectivity is very limited.  So how are the 700 million phones powered? He said poly silicon is still very expensive and uneconomic as a power source right now.

Rural Africa has little  electrification but has base stations. The mobile industry uses way over three billion litres of petrol a year to essentially power base stations.  So the major beneficiaries of technology are the petrochemical companies.

In rural areas people want small and less powerful phones because it’s desirable for mobiles to last for days, as re-charging can prove difficult. There are ways round that, such as PV chargers, but they are still mostly unaffordable.

In most African markets people are likely to have multiple SIM cards because of special services the providers may supply, such as free phone calls at night, and the like.

Memory cards in mobile devices and cameras are not widespread in the African continent. The challenge for businesses looking at Africa as a market include technology that can take humidity, heat and dust.  Heat sink design is pivotal, as are free cooling datacentres, and the use of e-band or other frequencies for connectivity because of low power requirements.