(Doha) Only a third of the inhabitants of the world’s poorest countries (LDCs) are connected to the internet, a United Nations agency said on Sunday, as private initiatives providing connectivity via satellite are developing.
Only 36% of the 1.25 billion inhabitants of the 46 LDCs can connect to the network, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), while this is the case for more than 90% of Europeans.
But digital giants including Microsoft, Space X or Starlink now offer solutions to dive directly from the digital desert to satellite connectivity.
The “digital divide” has increased over the past ten years, noted the ITU on the sidelines of the LDC summit hosted by Qatar. The subject has even become one of the major subjects of the summit, access to the internet representing access to knowledge, markets and opportunities of all kinds.
“You are forgotten by the digital revolution, deprived of the technological support you need,” denounced United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Saturday.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country four times the size of Germany, only a quarter of the population is online. The network is decent in Kinshasa and in a few large cities, but a huge part of the country, some areas of which are the subject of incessant fighting between rebel groups, remains a huge digital desert.
At the Doha summit, companies in the sector claim to have part of the solution, led by Microsoft, which says it wants to provide network access to 100 million Africans by 2025.
The American group had announced the launch of the first phase in December, with 5 million people connected by low-orbit satellites from the Viasat group. The next 20 million will go through the African telecommunications specialist Liquid Intelligent Technologies.
Microsoft President Brad Smith admitted to AFP that he wondered if “it was all real” when he saw this figure of 20 million connected for the first time last year. But the American giant he leads is willing to go even further.
“Technology costs have dropped substantially and will continue to do so. This is part of what makes it possible to reach such a large part of the population so quickly,” he explained.
“We can reach many more people than we could 5, 10 or 15 years ago with fixed line technologies.”
Space X and Starlink, both owned by billionaire Elon Musk, also orbit thousands of satellites mostly in an orbit between 400 and 700 kilometers from Earth.
“We are optimistic about what digital technology can do for development,” added Brad Smith, admitting that the private sector remains “underinvested and underdeveloped” in LDCs.
Liquid Intelligent claims to have some 100,000 km of terrestrial fiber on the continent, but also a solid satellite footprint.
“In remote areas, satellite is often the only technology or the most reliable technology for fast broadband that works all the time,” said Nic Rudnick, vice president of Liquid Intelligent.
Developed countries already use satellite for telecommunications and television. In Africa, “the frequencies are not used and therefore are available. Governments are accelerating to connect more people,” says Brad Smith.