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Africa is on the cusp of an Internet boom

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"The last decade was a voice decade," says Brian Herlihy, the chief executive whose company planted the first high-speed cable off the east coast of Africa.

If you lived on this continent for the past decade, you know what he's talking about: the expanding crowds of teenage kids hawking phone credit in traffic jams, the rows of phone repair stalls in city centers, the overnight emergence of telecoms like MTN and Zain as the most visible conglomerates in contemporary Africa, something like the big railroads of America's 1880s.

It's been a decade of flip phones and ringtones on the world's least wired continent, but the coming decade may be more digital.

Today, most of the continent hovers between 5 and 15 percent internet access; Herlihy expects that to grow by 50 percent every year for as far into the future as his team can see.

Total Africa-wide spending on IT technology, he projects, will triple to $150 billion, and downloads and data will drive that – not calls.

"There's been no data revolution in Africa," he says.

But the powers-that-plan are preparing for it.

Price war

For Google, for phonemakers, and service operators, Africa has become the beta continent for new nifty tech breakthroughs.


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