At the risk of overly simplifying the explanation, Internet access speed basically comes down to one word: bandwidth. Think of the area where you live. Is there a highway or an expressway near by? Is that faster than taking surface streets? Does traffic move faster on a four-lane highway, or a two-lane highway? When you’re talking about traffic capacity, in a sense you’re talking about bandwidth. More lanes equals more cars that can pass a given point at a time. Direct routes, rather than roads with turns and stop signs are faster as well. In the same way, Internet “traffic” moves faster on direct lines, with as wide of a “road” as possible.
The internet measures the equivalent of “traffic lanes” as bits-per-second (bps) and often you’ll see measurements as kbps, Mbps or Gbps, for kilo (x10^3), Mega (x10^6) or Giga (x10^9). The more Gbps, the wider the highway, and the more “traffic lanes.”
With that basic understanding, lets take a look at an interesting part of the Internet you might normally think of: Undersea cables! Since the United States and UK are home to the majority of internet servers the surprisingly most cost-effective way to provide fast access between continents is through undersea fiber-optic cables. This is where the hope for the future of speedy African Internet access comes from.
Check out this link to a world map showing the current and future undersea cable runs: http://www.cablemap.info/ As you can see, more and more cable is being run from the Americas and Europe down to the continent of Africa and with it, the promise of faster Internet access as the bandwidth capabilities of these cable runs are ever increasing (see this link: http://manypossibilities.net/african-undersea-cables/)
As this fiber is being laid on the ocean floor and subsequently turned on and put into use, the internet access speeds in Africa will become faster and faster.
Why is this important?
In my previous blog posts about the digital divide, we talked about digital literacy and becoming digital citizens. In order to fully utilize computer skills and become digital citizens, access to the Internet is crucial. If users cannot connect quickly and utilize the latest technology because internet access is too slow, the digital divide will continue to widen. We are working with schools to help bridge the digital divide, creating digitally literate citizens who will be poised to take advantage of the faster access when it arrives.