A new GSMA study published by ‘Mobile 360 Series– Africa’ revealed that there will be 386 million unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa by the end of this year, equivalent to 41 percent of the region’s population.
The region’s subscriber base had grown by 13 percent a year (CAGR), on average, during the first half of this decade, 2010 to 2015, growing at more than twice the rate of the global average (six percent) during this period.
The region overtook Latin America in 2014 to become the world’s third-largest mobile subscriber market, behind Asia Pacific and Europe. The number of unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to surpass half a billion (518 million) by 2020, representing almost one in two (49 percent) of the region’s population by this point.
Total mobile connections in Sub-Saharan Africa are on track to reach 722 million by year-end.
The report further showed that 3G/4G will account for almost a quarter of connections this year, but will increase to 57 percent by 2020, driven by expanding mobile broadband network coverage and falling device costs.
Commercial 3G networks have been launched in 41 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa as of June 2015, while 4G networks have been launched in 23 countries.
Investment in these high-speed networks is resulting in a corresponding growth in consumers using their devices to access the internet; almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the Sub-Saharan African population will be using the mobile internet this year, a figure forecast to rise to 37 percent by 2020.
Mobile is seen as the primary means of accessing the internet in a region where fixed-line infrastructure is severely limited.
The increasing availability of mobile broadband networks, alongside the introduction of affordable mobile data tariffs and falling device prices, has led to a surge in smartphone use.
The smartphone adoption rate has doubled over the last two years and now accounts for one in five connections, though this is still half the global adoption average (40 percent).
It is predicted that regional smartphone connections will reach 540 million by 2020, accounting for half of total connections by that point. The report notes that the average selling price of smartphones has fallen significantly in most regional markets, with an increasing number of models now available in the sub-$100 price range.
Investing in jobs, networks and innovation in 2014, the mobile ecosystem directly employed approximately two million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the majority working in the distribution and retail sectors and approximately 325,000 employed by mobile operators.
A further 2.4 million jobs were indirectly supported as a result of the demand generated by the mobile sector, bringing the total to 4.4 million. It is forecast that the industry will grow to support more than six million jobs by 2020.
The mobile ecosystem also made a contribution to the public finances of the region’s governments via general taxation of approximately $15 billion in 2014.
Mobile operators in the region invested $9 billion in network infrastructure development in 2014, a 16 percent increase on the amount invested in 2013. The ongoing investment in mobile broadband networks will see capital investments reach $13.6 billion by 2020.
The report highlights how mobile operators are working on innovative solutions to expand network coverage to underserved populations in rural and geographically remote areas and to tackle the barriers to mobile phone adoption including affordability and digital literacy.
It also indicates that mobile operators, governments and international development organisations have been working on a range of mobile-based solutions to address a variety of social challenges in the region, many of which arise from lack of access to essential services such as basic education and health.
“Mobile is having a hugely positive and transformative impact across Sub-Saharan Africa, but future progress will depend on governments working with the industry to provide a regulatory environment that encourages investment and innovation,” added Alex Sinclair.

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