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Information Technology Dynamics in Africa

Linking Africa’s emergence to that of Big Data, in this exponential era, Africa can leapfrog stages of development which advanced economies had to pass through, straight to the tech frontier, without worrying about adapting old systems to cope with the data it creates.

In July 2011 IBM won a ten-year, $1.5 billion contract to provide Bharti Airtel, an Indian mobile-phone company, with information-technology services in 16 African countries. Since mid-2011 it has set up shop in Angola, Mauritius and Tanzania, as well as Senegal. In all, it boasts a presence in more than 20 of Africa’s 54 countries. It opened a research lab in Nairobi, one of only 12 in the world. 

Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, spent a week in sub-Saharan cities. He enthused about Nairobi, which, he wrote, “has emerged as a serious tech hub and may become the African leader.”

Orange, a French mobile operator, and Baidu, China’s answer to Google, recently introduced a jointly branded smartphone browser in Africa and the Middle East.

Microsoft, which has offices in 14 African countries, unveiled a smartphone to be sold in several African markets. It's made by China’s Huawei and uses Microsoft’s new operating system.

In Kenya Microsoft intends to bring broadband to places that do not yet have electricity, using solar power and “white spaces”, or spare broadcast-television frequencies. Within a year, says Fernando de Sousa, the general manager for Microsoft in Africa, 6,000 people in the Rift Valley will have access to broadband. Similar projects are planned elsewhere. Microsoft is running “app factories” for programmers in Egypt and South Africa.

John Kelly, IBM’s head of research, says that after the firm set up labs in China in 1995 and in India in 1998, “we found that we were getting innovation out of those research labs which could only have occurred in those locations.” The Indian lab, for example, produced the “spoken web”, for illiterate people a with cheap phones. One of the Nairobi lab’s early challenges is traffic. The city has few traffic lights or cameras; hence the awful congestion. Signals from motorists’ mobile phones can help to track traffic, but planners have few data to work with. IBM’s lab will harness other sources, such as security cameras that are not aimed at the road but capture images of it anyway. IBM will then crunch all the data to help planners control traffic and decide where to build more roads. The Chinese and Indian labs, Mr Kelly says, took ten years to make a significant contribution technically and commercially. Kenya’s target is five. He says the lab has made a good start. 


This is curated article from the Economist, click here to read full article.

Last modified on Wednesday, 24 July 2013 10:49

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