Africa's internet domain space is on a checkered rise

52 countries in the continent now have at least one registrar selling and managing domain names on behalf of individuals or businesses

Africa's internet domain space is on a checkered rise
Photo by Sigmund / Unsplash

Atop the growing count of people across Africa gaining access to the internet, the domain names and hosting services market has started to pick up pace. As more Africans come online, a parallel trend has emerged to propel the domain industry into a new phase.

Since 2016, the amount of African ccTLD [country code top-level domain] names has grown by 21%, reaching 4.3 million in the last quarter of 2023, says the draft final report of the 2023 Africa Domain Name Industry Study by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

In addition, there are about 1.4 million registrations in the gTLDs [generic top-level domains] category by African entities.

"However, the role of Freenom obscures the general trend for domestic ccTLD registrations because in 2016 almost all (93%) of the increase was in fact in the four Freenom ‘domain hack’ countries," one of the key findings reads.

The research, as part of an initiative under the Coalition for Digital Africa, was conducted to assess the evolving domain name system market and economic trends that describe and quantify the overall potential of the industry in the region.

52 countries in the continent now have at least one registrar—an entity accredited by domain registries to sell and manage domain names on behalf of individuals, businesses, or organizations. 16 nations have at least one registry, while 36 others have multiple.

The analysis shows the number of registrars is a factor in the number of ccTLD domains that have been sold, adding that it is also true that a successful industry would naturally attract more registrars.

As of 2009, only about 4% of global internet users were in Africa. In 2016, internet penetration increased to 29% and went on to 36% in 2022. According to ICANN, it stood at 43% in 2023. Buoyed by a young and tech-hungry demographic, internet uptake has been on a gradual growth.

Nevertheless, the region comes behind its counterparts, in a world where average internet penetration is 68%. In combination with other factors like costs, unreliable internet connections, and restrictive policy environments, this constrains demand for domain names.

The report also reveals South Africa has the highest number of internet domain registrations and internet exchange points (IXPs) on the continent, sitting on 54 ccTLDs and 54 gTLDs. This reinforces its place as the most active internet ecosystem in these parts.

There are many more active registrars than the 13 accredited by ICANN. South Africa has the most in the region, with 622 registrars accredited by the ZA Registry Consortium (ZARC).

ICANN posits that the annual domain name service industry is roughly equivalent to $1.5 billion for African ccTLD domain names alone.

"Although when based on locally available rates, the industry size is probably less than $1 billion. At least 25% of the revenues are likely to accrue to the international registrars, and the remaining $.75 billion would be import or local revenue generated by the African ccTLDs and registrars," the organization says.

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