Google Ramps Up Investment in Fiber Cable, Training Africans

Updated on
  • U.S. firm seeks to increase internet access alongside Facebook
  • Sees need for easier connectivity, digital skills training

Google Inc. is scaling up investment in Africa by laying fiber optic cable, easing access to cheaper Android phones and training a workforce in digital skills as the U.S. technology giant seeks to expand on the continent.

“We laid about 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) of fiber in Uganda and we are busy doing about 1,000 kilometers in Ghana,’’ Google’s South Africa head Luke McKend said in a phone interview. “We want to make sure that we cover all the bases. We want to train people and make sure that they have the devices and are able to connect to the internet.’’

About 1 million people in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa have been trained by Google over the past year, yet many had to complete their courses with limited internet access due to unreliable coverage and high data prices, McKend said. The Mountain View, California-based company is now turning its attention to web-focused skills training for small businesses across Africa.

Alongside U.S. competitors including Facebook Inc., Google is seeking to boost connectivity on the continent to prise open a new market for smartphones and services such as web search and social media. Younger consumers in sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly demanding quicker internet speeds and cheaper phones to go about their business, while local wireless operators including MTN Group Ltd. and Vodacom Group Ltd. see the digital space as their fastest-growing market.

Facebook’s Plan

Facebook last month said it plans almost 500 miles (805 kilometers) of fiber cable in Uganda, while Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg met technology businessmen in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa last year. The company planned to launch a satellite to extend internet access too rural parts of sub-Saharan Africa, but the plan was scuppered when a SpaceX rocket connected to the initiative blew up in Florida.

Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc. is running African trials for its Project Loon, which uses solar-powered balloons to connect people in rural or remote places. The company will also provide offline versions of its training courses in languages including Swahili, IsiZulu and Hausa.

“Training people in digital skills has a larger economic impact than just making them more employable,” McKend said. “They also help those around them to get online and can become job creators and entrepreneurs themselves.”

(Updates with Google director quote in final paragraph.)
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