Deploying American Innovation for Africa’s Digital Infrastructure

By: Reva Singh
Reva Singh is an intern with USTDA’s Public Affairs team and a rising sophomore at Princeton University.

Cell Tower in South Africa. USTDA promotes ICT infrastructure in Africa and U.S. exports of goods and services.

Africa’s rural communities face several structural and technological challenges to affordable and reliable internet access. Vast geographic distances and low rural population density complicate the build out of fiber optic infrastructure, leaving millions without access to the immense economic, social and political benefits of internet connectivity. Bridging this digital divide will narrow the development gap between rural and urban Africa, but it will also require innovative solutions and proven business models.

USTDA’s Access Africa initiative was launched with this very purpose in mind. Organized in 2019 in collaboration with U.S. industry, Access Africa advances inclusive, secure, and sustainable connectivity by bringing together private and public sector leaders to identify and deploy solutions to build Africa’s digital infrastructure.

Under the initiative USTDA is working with partners like Dark Fibre Africa, a South African connectivity provider, to expand fiber optic infrastructure to peri-urban and rural areas outside of the country’s major cities. This innovative approach will identify pockets of customer demand in areas with low population density to help bring down the cost of fiber deployment and deliver high-speed internet to underserved communities in South Africa.

USTDA is also helping to connect rural communities in South Africa using U.S. TV white space technology. Working with two Access Africa partners – Adaptrum and Microsoft – USTDA is co-funding a pilot project to assess how to deliver broadband connectivity by tapping into the country’s unused TV channels.

In Nigeria – one of USTDA’s most active global markets – the Agency is working with Hotspot Network, a wireless communications company, on a study that will help deploy up to 2,000 Open RAN mobile network base stations utilizing U.S. technology. Open RAN technology helps network operators use equipment from multiple vendors and ensure interoperability. This facilitates competition, lower costs and improved performance – all critical components of a network that is better able to service existing customers while providing reliable and affordable access to rural communities.

Collectively, these projects hold the potential to connect millions to internet infrastructure and serve as examples that can be replicated across the continent.

Heather Lanigan, USTDA’s Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Agency’s ICT Sector Team Co-Lead, says, “Our ICT portfolio is diverse, and it is helping our partners pursue and scale innovative approaches to meet the needs of their customers. USTDA is proud to contribute to the growth of the ICT sector in Africa, while also supporting increased access for U.S.-based solutions and services on the continent. This win-win proposition is grounded in our strong partnerships and driven by the objective of mutual prosperity – and it’s the reason behind USTDA’s success in Africa.”