#AfricaNow #4: How Google is bringing Internet access to emerging markets

Jul 22 · 4 min read
Adama Diallo, Head of Google Next Billion Users (NBU) Partnerships EMEA

We’ve got another exciting wrap-up to share with you today. This time, Google’s very own Adama Diallo, Head of Google Next Billion Users (NBU) Partnerships EMEA, and Alaap Tatwawadi, Head of Google NBU Strategy & Operations — India & Africa, underlined some of the “Macro trends about Africa and solutions specially designed for this continent” that have come out of their very successful NBU initiative.

The world is changing very fast with mobile phone coverage and increased usage of the internet, bringing billions online. 80% of mobile phone usage in the world comes from emerging markets like India and Africa. Access to the internet has already transformed the lives of 4 billion people — they are mobile first and mostly mobile only. Africans have skipped the PC and laptop era straight to that of the mobile phone.

70% of these users are under 30 and driven by a desire for social connectivity and status. This manifests in different ways, influencing their purchases both offline and online. All of them have the same fundamental needs: to contact their family and friends, stay updated with news and entertainment as well as transact.

At Google, they are trying to create and make available the best technology to help transform the continent. They have to make sure that the products they bring to the markets are locally relevant and relevant for the next generation of users. To be at the forefront of this and build products you have to bear in mind cultural context from market to market.

Users in these emerging markets are very creative, savvy and unique. 57% of Nigerians, for example, have two sim cards, always using the right one for the right purpose and interchanging on a daily basis.

The next generation of users want their smartphone to be their computer, their camera, their entertainment device and a medium for business but they face many challenges:

  • The biggest challenge is storage. Most phones in the African market have less than 500mb of storage space, creating problems when managing, finding and storing files. Apps like Whatsapp for example, eat storage with photos and videos.
  • Next challenge is connectivity. People want to watch videos and connect freely with the internet but streaming is a challenge though with a lack of connectivity on the continent.
  • Content in their own language is also a problem. Hindi, for instance, is the 4th most spoken language in the world but only accounts for 2% of all online content.

At Google, they started the Next Billion Users (NBU) initiative almost three years ago with three main pillars: platform, product and access.

  • Platform: They work with all the big existing Google platforms directly to help lead innovation. For example, Two-Wheeler Mode on Google Maps was launched in India, a perfect fit for the culture and market. YouTube Go is another example, allowing users to see the size of the videos and download them for offline access.
  • Product — The NBU initiative works with existing product teams to help adapt them to the emerging markets. Within this product development, they want to bring together the best of Google as we need to offer products that work flawlessly on low RAM devices, work in multiple languages and help people get the most out of their devices. Neighbourly in India is a good example of this as well as Files by Google, the highest rate app that we created that leverages on AI to help you manage files on your mobile.
Files by Google: the file management app for every Android user
  • Access — Most of Google solutions become irrelevant without access. 50% of the world’s population is offline and only 4 out of 10 people in Sub-Saharan Africa are connected. This is why they launched Google Station with the mission of connecting people to fast, free and open internet. It’s already live in 8 countries with 1000 venues and 10 Monthly active users. Google Station in Nigeria grew faster than any market before it: 350k unique users per month, average session of 75 minutes and 700mb downloaded per session.

All African startups are doing amazing jobs in transforming the continent, but there is still a problem with access. That’s why at Google they believe that they need to be more local, playing a role in active support on the ground.


Check out our other wrap-ups of the #AfricaNow event:


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