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Sub-Sahara Africa fastest growing region for mobile subscriptions

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More than half a billion people across Sub-Saharan Africa will be subscribed to a mobile service by the end of the decade.

A study conducted by the GSMA, the trade body that represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide and is headquartered in London, forecasts that the number of unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow from 420 million (43 per cent of the population) at the end of 2016 to 535 million (50 per cent of the population) in 2020.

The new report, entitled ‘The Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2017’, was published at the GSMA Mobile 360 Africa event held in Dar Es Salaam earlier this month.

These latest statistics confirms that Sub-Sahara Africa is the fastest growing region in the world for mobile subscriptions. The report also highlights the Sub-Saharan Africa mobile ecosystem’s growing contribution to regional GDP, jobs, innovation and socio-economic development.

Sustainable solution

“Sub-Saharan Africa will be a key engine of subscriber growth for the world’s mobile industry over the next few years as we connect millions of previously unconnected men, women and young people across the continent,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA. “Mobile is also offering sustainable solutions that address the lack of access to services such as health, education, electricity, clean water and financial services, which still affect large swathes of the population.”

Mobile growth will also play an important role in connecting the young and closing the gender gap.

According to a report by IT News Africa, subscriber growth is expected to be concentrated in large, under-penetrated markets such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania, which together will account for half of the 115 million new subscribers expected in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020. Growth will also focus on currently under-represented segments such as the under-16 age group, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the population in many countries, and women, who are currently 17 per cent less likely to have a mobile phone subscription than their male counterparts.

Vital tools

Mobile is also a vital tool in delivering digital and financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa. Around 270 million people in the region now access the internet through mobile devices, while the number of registered mobile money accounts has reached 280 million. Mobile operators and others are also leveraging the ubiquity of mobile networks across the region to deliver services that are working towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in areas such as energy, water and sanitation, healthcare, and education.

Driving regional economies

Mobile technologies and services generated $110 billion of economic value in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016, equivalent to 7.7 per cent of regional GDP– a figure expected to grow to $142 billion (8.6 per cent of GDP) by 2020. The mobile ecosystem also directly and indirectly supported approximately 3.5 million jobs in the region last year, and made a $13 billion contribution to the public sector in the form of taxation.

Local mobile operators have invested $37 billion in their networks over the past five years, mainly to deploy new 3G/4G mobile broadband networks. About a third of mobile connections in region were running on mobile broadband networks at the end of last year, forecast to rise to 60 per cent by 2020. These new networks – alongside rising smartphone adoption – are driving demand for digital content and services.

“As Sub-Saharan Africa transitions to higher levels of mobile engagement, underpinned by growing access to mobile data services and smart devices, we are seeing a flourishing mobile ecosystem emerge, supported by growing investments by operators and others in mobile-focused startups and tech hubs,” added Granryd. “Building this digital society requires collaboration between governments and the mobile industry to develop the policies and programmes that create the right incentives for innovation and an enabling environment for extending connectivity to all.”