Research conducted by communications firm Ericsson has predicted an explosion in Africa’s mobile market that will dwarf the current boom. By the end of the year, forecasters say mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa will exceed 635 million. That figure rises to around 930 million by the end of the decade. Data usage is predicted to grow at twice the anticipated global rate.
These figures are way beyond previous forecasts and have prompted analysts to completely revise their approach to what is the fastest-growing mobile market on the planet. It’s safe to say that Africa is undergoing a bona fide communications revolution.
There are a few reasons for this dramatic growth, not least the plummeting costs of mobile technology. A new generation of smartphones costing as little as $50 have put internet access within reach of people who can’t afford an iPhone (let alone a MacBook), and content-rich apps - many of them free - are grist to the mobile mill.
Another key driver of Africa’s mobile boom is the nature of web connectivity in the present decade. Cellular networks have vastly improved their wireless coverage and speed in recent years, allowing remote populations to access the web without a physical connection. The combination of portability and affordability explains why 70% of users in African countries studied by Ericsson browse the web on mobile devices, compared with just 6% who use desktops.
To put this into context, let’s take a little history lesson. Just 20 years ago, a Kenyan businessman did not have access to the kind of communications infrastructure common in the west. Much of the country lacked even copper telephone lines, and the internet - fast taking root in developed economies - was a pipe dream. Contacting suppliers was difficult, and lag times between customer orders and deliveries could be monumental.
It took until 1999 for the first mobile operator license to be granted in Kenya. Since then, sub-Saharan Africa has exceeded all expectations. Impoverished entrepreneurs can literally run a business with nothing more than a smartphone and an internet connection. The impact has been real, and massive. Supply chains have cut days off delivery times. Rural farmers can receive text messages on the latest global market prices to ensure they get a fair deal. In a continent where people are used to travelling many miles to conduct business, only to be disappointed when they get there to find no inventory, it’s now possible to save them many hours - days, even - by dint of a humble SMS message.
The rate of change is staggering. There are 35+ tech hubs in Africa, providing jobs and opportunities for start ups to get a foothold in the global market. The continent is, perhaps, ‘the last blue ocean’ of consumerism, and big tech is sitting up and taking notice. Investment is increasing, and many of the big tech brands - including Google and Samsung - have set up camp. Hopes are high for Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. The more these tech pioneers flourish, the better things will get for their poorer neighbours. Considering how much Africa has exceeded expectations over the last decade, the next decade is going to be very exciting indeed.