Africa’s mobile phone boom – the Portuguese speaking countries


The 650 million mobile phone devices existing in Africa add up to more than those in the United States and Europe put together says a World Bank report released this weekend with Lusa News Agency providing this overview on CPLP member states on the continent.

The World Bank report points out how access to a mobile phone is more common than running water, banking services or even electricity with the devices increasingly serving as multi-functional platforms for every-thing from accessing the media, weather forecasts, money transfers, education and government services with Africa turning in the most accelerated expansion in mobile phone ownership worldwide.

The size of the continent and the corresponding difficulties in rolling out physical infrastructures does much to explain the popularity of mobile devices as also does the sheer variety in the positions encountered across the country.
In the West African archipelago of Cape Verde, four out of five citizens already own a mobile phone, a level that has tripled since 2007 with the consultancy firm Telegeography reporting 7.3 percent growth in 2012.

That 80 percent figure corresponds to 457,700 users divided up between two operators CM Movel, run by Cabo Verde Telecom and with a market share of over 70 percent, and the Angolan-owned Unitel T+, with data from InternetWorldStats showing how one in three citizens are now connected to the Internet via their mobile phones.

As of June 30 2013, Cape Verde was home to 167,542 Internet users of which 107,340 were running Facebook pages, 30 percent of all mobile phone users.
The Angolan market has also reached a similar level of sophistication as growth continues at a frenetic pace according to Telegeography with some 600,000 new clients expected to be added by year end, taking the total market size to practically 15 million mobile users.

Telegeography points to the post-civil war optimism leading to hectic expansion between 2003 and 2005 with mobile coverage of some form extending to all 18 provinces and spurred by an estimated $650 million in funding from Chinese banks through to 2007.

With just two operators, Movicel and Unitel, Angola has thus tripled the number of active SIM cards since the 5.2 million in 2007 with the 14.2 million registered at the end of 2012. Equivalent to a penetration rate of 70 percent, this is a good performance by the continent’s standards.
Meanwhile, São Tome and Principe has taken the regulatory approach to expanding its telecommunications sector following agreement to open up CST’s hitherto monopoly to competition from the Angolan firm Unitel.

Unitel is paying a reported $8 million USD both for its license and the state’s holding in the country’s cable network in a market already estimated to have reached a 72 percent mobile penetration rate.

Demonstrating the level of demand existing across the continent, even in the otherwise development-challenged West African state of Guinea-Bissau, mobile phone users have tripled in the last five years from 332,000 in 2007 to 1.1 million users at the end of last year, rising to 1.3 million by June, again according to the Telegeography consultancy firm.

This represents a penetration rate of 73.6 percent with the South African firm MTN holding a majority market share.

This level has been reached despite Portuguese operator PT abandoning the country after failing to reach agreement over operating conditions and the continuing lack of an effective 3G service.

MTN provides Internet access via GPRS with the second largest operator Orange Bissau, a Senegalese owned business, making recourse to Wi-Fi VoIP provision.
Meanwhile, Mozambique is the laggard in the group with a penetration rate back on 52 percent and described by Telegeography as a potential gold mine given the level of dissatisfaction with the current service providers.

Nevertheless, the Southeast African country has seen similarly frenetic levels of growth in numbers with the 3.5 million users in 2007 now standing at 12.3 million with 2013 alone seeing a 20 percent surge in numbers having stood at 10.3 million at the end of last year.