Real Time Communications Featured Article

Huge Mobile Subscriber Growth Forecast for Sub-Saharan Africa

November 10, 2014

When one thinks of Sub-Saharan Africa, it doesn't exactly ring a lot of bells in terms of technological advancement, but one of the particular advancements lurking close to the surface there may well be a much bigger development than many might have expected. A new report from GSMA, issued during the Mobile 360 Africa event in Cape Town, South Africa noted that, by 2020, the number of mobile subscribers in the Sub-Saharan Africa will grow impressively, sufficiently so to pass half a billion unique subscribers.

Reports suggest that, by 2020, somewhere around every second person in Africa—around 49 percent—will have a mobile subscription. It's been regarded as the fastest growing region in terms of mobile connectivity, and it's expected that this region will produce the fastest growth rate through 2020. Reports expect a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of seven percent, with 329 million subscribers.

With 46 countries comprising the region, from Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of Congo, there's quite a bit of population to help drive that growth potential. In fact, the reports note that, by 2020, Sub-Saharan Africa will surpass Europe and become the second largest growth vector of mobile service behind only the Asia-Pacific region. The growth serves as good news for the region, as it's not only a major source of jobs, but also of tax revenue. Reports suggest that, in 2013, the industry directly employed around 2.4 million people, and indirectly brought another 3.7 million jobs into play. Beyond that, it also paid around $13 billion in taxes in 2013, and paid an unknown amount in terms of license fees, regulatory fees, and spectrum auction purchases. Indeed, on many fronts, mobile connections are becoming the primary means of accessing the Internet throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, and that's going to pose both challenge and opportunity for both those users and the service providers in the region. A study from Ericsson suggests that mobile data traffic in the region will grow fully 20-fold just between 2013 and 2019, a rate that's twice the global growth rate in the same period.

The GSMA's director general, Anne Bouverot, offered some commentary on both the opportunities and the challenges posed by such developments, saying “To fully realize the transformative potential of mobile in Sub-Saharan Africa, the mobile industry requires a supportive regulatory framework that provides long-term stability and encourages investment. This includes the need for clear and transparent spectrum management processes, as well as tackling high levels of taxation in some markets. Addressing these issues will allow mobile to power a fresh wave of growth and innovation in this fast-developing region.”

Since the Sub-Saharan Africa region is so widely spread out in terms of geography, it makes sense that mobile access would prove to be the dominant force in the region. Take all the problems the United States faces in terms of bringing access to rural dwellers and it becomes clear the kind of problems faced by Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of providing access. But providing access is important; look at the sheer number of jobs and the sheer amount of tax revenue raised as a result. The more access is provided, the more opportunities regular users have to get in on the action as well, whether it's cost savings or revenue generation. Only time will tell what comes out of Sub-Saharan Africa as connection rates go up, but it's likely to prove good news for a region that could sorely use some of that these days, economically speaking.

This week, GENBAND is participating in AfricaCom Conference & Expo happening in Cape Town, South Africa where it is showcasing its comprehensive portfolio of solutions including Kandy, its subscription-based real time communications software development platform;  NUViA its white-label Unified Communications (UC) offering; SPiDR, its  WebRTC Gateway solution and its QUANTiX Wireless Access Gateway.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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