Having announced yesterday at the opening of their new offices in Johannesburg that the number African Facebook users has increased to 170 million, the company has announced further plans to expand by adding wifi hotspots and laying fiber-optic cables in a bid to spread its reach outside of developed markets according to reports in Bloomberg. The plans form part of Facebook’s long-term investment push in Africa, the social network’s least developed market with less than 10 percent of its 1.86 billion users worldwide.
Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing, said in an interview in Johannesburg on Tuesday that the rise in users has seen a 42% increase on the number of users since the social networking giant opened their first office in Africa in 2015.
International wireless carriers Emirates Telecommunications, Etisalat, and Surf will be coming together in partnership in order to roll out wifi in Nigeria and Kenya. This comes after Facebook announced the construction of 770 kilometres of fiber-optic cables in Uganda alongside Bharti Airtel of India earlier this year according to MoneyWeb.
“There is no magic bullet to provide the internet to people on the continent,” Everson said near the site of Facebook’s new, larger office in Johannesburg.
“We are using everything available to us, including rolling out express wifi, building fiber, and testing our Aquila project,” she said, referring to unmanned solar-powered planes that beam down internet connectivity.
The California-based company is trying to take advantage of a young population, greater connectivity and the increasing availability and affordability of smartphones to access new customers. Other US companies targeting African growth include Google, which said last month it’s laying fiber-optic cable and easing access to cheaper Android phones.
“People are sensitive to data prices on the continent. Infrastructure is expensive and that is why we are looking for partners,” Everson said. “We are partnering with telecommunications infrastructure projects, and, as a result, bring down the price of data.”
The company’s has seen it’s instant-messaging service WhatsApp become extremely popular on the continent as it continues to overshadow Facebook Messenger.
Last year Facebook attempted to further connect to rural Africans, this attempt however was halted by SpaceX rocket. Despite this set back, Facebook is using a combination of land-based and satellite technologies to roll out wifi hotspots and is evaluating other options as they become available, the executive concluded.