Google set to circumvent Nigeria’s slow internet with its “offline first” YouTube

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, came on his first visit to Nigeria, bearing gifts and good tidings.

Yesterday (July 27), Pichai attended a Google For Nigeria event in Lagos as Google launched a range of new products, including YouTube Go, an “offline first” version of the video sharing platform for users with slow internet connections. YouTube Go will enable users preview and download videos, rather than stream, while essentially saving on data costs.

Extremely popular is the Nigerian video content, led by the burgeoning Nollywood film industry and ‘Afrobeats’ pop stars, but some Nigerians limit their online viewing to the workplace where connections might be better with slow and expensive internet access, executives at online video companies like IrokoTV revealed this.

It’s certainly not lacking in potential. According to regulators, Nigeria still has over 91 million mobile internet users, even though the country’s internet subscriber base has shrunk over the past year due to a regulatory clampdown on unregistered sim cards. However, that vast user base is largely undermined by unreliable connections across the country. Nigeria has some of the slowest internet speeds of the major economies in Africa. Google is betting on its new data-friendly version of YouTube to help local users navigate that problem. Nigeria will become the second country where the app was launched after a beta launch later this year. YouTube Go was first launched in India in April.

There has been plenty of hype about the possible impact of internet access throughout Africa for the last few years, particularly as mobile phone usage, and then smartphone use, grew rapidly. But the world’s biggest tech leaders have visited to see the potential for themselves only in the last two years. In July 2015, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella launched Windows 10 in Nairobi, while Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg had high profile visits to Lagos and Nairobi last year. Last week, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma touched down in Nairobi and Kigali.

Local startup founders and investors will hope these high profile visits will help drive interest in their tech ecosystems beyond being seen as experimental or just for social impact enterprises.

Google is also enlarging its product offering in Nigeria including improving its Maps service which has seen the number of Nigerian user double in the past year. Google as an added feature for Maps, announced the launch of its Street View product in Lagos which allows users to virtually view “10,000 kilometers of imagery” across the city.

Pichai revealed his company is also trying to plug the crucial funding and skills gap on the continent. Google has committed $20 million in grants to “high impact non-profits” in Africa over the next few years. It will also provide $3 million in equity-free funding to African entrepreneurs and open its first Google Launchpad Space outside the United States in Lagos this year.

Pichai in addition said, over 100,000 software developers will be trained by Google across the continent, with an initial focus on Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. The training sessions will also be offered in local languages including Swahili, Hausa and Zulu and 40% of trainees will be women.


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