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8 November 2016

Africa’s mobile video explosion provides major opportunity for Facebook

By Charles Hall

Slowly but surely Africa is entering the online video scene as the widely unconnected continent is experiencing an increasing level of video consumption that will eventually lead to further adoption of mobile video apps.

A report from Sandvine, ‘Global Internet Phenomena Report: Africa, Asia-Pacific & the Middle East’, revealed that in Africa video consumption on mobile networks in the region has over doubled to 18.1% from 8.6% last year. Since YouTube was the top mobile app in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions, Sandvine predicts that in the next 18 months, seeing the rapid video growth in Africa, YouTube will become the top mobile video app in that region as well.

The fall of web traffic associated with the ageing WAP (Wireless Application Portal) in Africa over the past two years also indicates that smartphone adoption in the region is on the rise, giving mobile video apps a platform for the expanding internet-connected population.

“The rapid growth of video on mobile networks in Africa underscores the need for operators in the region to have solutions in place that allow them to measure, monetize and optimize the real time entertainment traffic that subscribers value,” said Sandvine’s COO of sales and global services Tom Donnelly. “These strategies have been extremely successful for our customers in both Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, and has allowed them to provide their subscribers a high quality of experience when they are using the applications they care the most about.”

In an effort to expand internet access to more people in the region, Facebook, along with France’s Eutelsat Communications, planned to launch a satellite that would extend internet access to rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa. “We built these solar-powered drones that are basically like a cellphone tower in the sky. They can go over really remote rural locations and beam down connectivity to make sure networks spread and reach everyone,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during a presentation in Lagos, Nigeria back in August.

Unfortunately, the SpaceX rocket carrying the AMOS-6 communications satellite exploded upon lift-off, pushing back Facebook’s efforts in that region of Africa. But Abu Dhabi-based Yahsat and Eutelsat just signed an agreement giving Eutelsat’s broadband initiative, Broadband for Africa, access to up to 16 Ka-band spot beams on Yahsat’s 1B satellite, with further expansion to 18 spot beams on Yahsat’s Al Yah3 satellite. The service will launch in the first few months of 2017 and it means that the initiative between Eutelsat and Facebook to get more people online in the region is back on track.

The satellite was only one component of Facebook’s efforts. This also includes the Free Basics program, which provides mobile access to useful and necessary websites free of charge, for people in areas where mobile service is too costly for most. The service requires a participating mobile operator, and one is Airtel, across a number of African countries including Kenya, Niger, Rwanda and Ghana (though the effort was blocked in India by net neutrality regulations).

Increasing internet connectivity in areas where it is low would allow Facebook to add more new users and be their first port of call for their rising internet consumption. There are 1.7bn Facebook users worldwide, but the number of users in sub-Saharan Africa is only 84m, highlighting the huge potential for the web giant (and the reason Google is also pushing affordable mobile broadband to the region with technologies such as Project Loon and TV white spaces spectrum). With video consumption on the rise in the region, Facebook and the other mobile video-focused networks will benefit greatly from expanded internet connectivity in Africa.

This first ran in Rider Research’s Online Reporter (