Zulu woman using mobile phone

African continent set to reach one billion mobile subscriptions by end of 2016

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Africa is expected to cross the threshold of one billion mobile subscriptions during the fourth quarter of 2016, according to global data analysis specialists Ovum. The advisory firm forecasts that the total number of mobile subscriptions on the continent will rise to 1.33 billion by the end of 2021.

The region's growth in new mobile subscriptions is slowing. The average rate of mobile penetration in Africa was 79 per cent at the end of June, with mobile voice revenue on the continent predicted to decline over the five years to 2021. 

However, the next phase of growth is being driven by data and digital services. Data connections, as well as data and digital service revenue, will expand Africa’s telecoms market. The take-up of mobile broadband will rise strongly, powered by operators continuing to roll out 3G and 4G LTE networks in all territories and smartphone handsets becoming increasingly affordable. 

By 2021, it is estimated that there will be one billion mobile broadband connections in Africa, including 157.4 million 4G LTE connections. Additionally, the number of smartphone connections on the continent will reach 929.9 million at the end of 2021. Non-SMS mobile data revenue in Africa will rise from US$6.40 billion in 2015 to US$27.56 billion in 2021, a compound annual growth rate of 27.6 per cent. 

The number of fixed broadband connections in Africa is also expected to increase significantly over the coming years, albeit from a very low base, rising from 13.78 million at the end of 2016 to 19.97 million at the end of 2021. The number of fibre and fixed LTE connections will increase sharply over the next five years, but DSL will remain the dominant fixed broadband technology on the continent, accounting for 70.7 per cent of African fixed broadband connections in 2021. 

Despite the progress being made in connecting Africa, the continent ranks second lowest among world regions in its broadband development, according to Ovum’s Broadband Development Index (BDI), which measures countries and world regions based on their adoption of high-speed broadband. 

Africa had a BDI score of 232 out of 1,000 at the end of 2015, with Central and Southern Asia being the only region to record a lower score. Mauritius is the highest ranked African country in the BDI, with a score of 279 out of 1,000 at the end of 2015. The next highest-ranked African countries are South Africa, Tunisia, Algeria, and Namibia. 

Matthew Reed, practice leader for Middle East and Africa at Ovum, said: “As Africa nears the landmark of 1 billion mobile subscriptions, it is clear that the next phase of growth will be in broadband connections and in revenue from data access as well as from new ‘digital services’ such as digital media and mobile financial services. 

“However, Africa remains less advanced than most other world regions in its broadband development and there is both an opportunity and a need to further improve connectivity on the continent and to take advantage of the benefits that connectivity can bring.” 

This analysis of Africa’s telecoms market follows the recent news that identified how women from developing nations are significantly more likely to lack internet access than men with the gap widening, according to a new study by anti-poverty group the ONE organisation. 

The study found that almost a third fewer women than men in the world’s poorest countries are connected to the internet. About 18 per cent of men in the 48 least developed nations are online versus 12.5 per cent of women, with a gender gap of 22.3 million, or about 30 per cent. 

Africa telecoms infographic

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