While Africa had an estimated population of 1.11 billion in 2013, only around 200 million are connected to the Internet with the bulk of these users relying on feature phones or smartphones to connect. Additionally, a large percentage of that number is accounted for in a handful of countries.

Facebook

That said, it’s quite impressive that Facebook Inc NASDAQ:FB is now claiming that half of Africa’s connected citizens also have Facebook Inc NASDAQ:FB accounts. That number is, presumably, generous as there are no doubt a number of computers in schools or Internet cafe’s servicing multiple users.

100 million Facebook users

Nonetheless, Africa has 100 million Facebook users and a large number of them connect by mobile. However, until Facebook sent a team of engineers to Africa earlier this year, many were hesitant to use the mobile app until Facebook Inc NASDAQ:FB fixed it. During the trip engineers found that they could burn through the average African’s data plan in about 40 minutes, which was clearly not tenable for either the user or the company.

As a result, the team pared down the app’s download size by 65% and given the constant crashing of the app they experienced, rebuilt the app to deal with lower memory phones. In the six months following the trip, the engineers were also able to reduce the startup time for the app by over 50%.

Facebook Inc NASDAQ:FB long eclipsed the 1 billion user point but the second billion remains a long ways away. Facebook knows this as do its advertising partners who are each customizing their offerings accordingly.

“In Africa, we are seeing explosive growth and incredible momentum across the region. At the same time, when you look at the staggering cost of connectivity in many countries, mobile services need to deliver maximum utility on the biggest range of devices and consume the smallest amount of data, which is exactly what Facebook provides,” wrote Rob Norman, chief digital officer of media buying firm Global Group M, in a blog post earlier today.

Facebook Africa

Facebook and Internet.org

As someone who lives in Guatemala, I’ve seen Facebook Inc NASDAQ:FB partner with carriers in order to give those that might otherwise not have access to the social network via mobile free access to their offerings. The company did the same this June in Zambia where it gave locals access to Wikipedia, Facebook, Google Search, a women’s rights and a weather app through a partnership with Internet.org.

“Everything Facebook Inc NASDAQ:FB has done has been about giving all people around the world the power to connect,” Zuckerberg said in a statement at the time of the launch of internet.org in 2013. “There are huge barriers in developing countries to connecting and joining the knowledge economy. Internet.org brings together a global partnership that will work to overcome these challenges, including making internet access available to those who cannot currently afford it.”