Mobile Data Use Doubles in Sub-Saharan Africa


Mobile data use is growing fast in sub-Saharan Africa, opening up big opportunities for mobile service and telecommunications equipment providers, Swedish company Ericsson says in its latest mobility report for the region.

Between 2012 and 2013 mobile data use doubled in sub-Saharan Africa and that figure is forecast to nearly double year-on-year over most of the next six years, according to the report released Tuesday. In addition, the company expects mobile subscriptions to increase from 551 million, as of the end of 2013, to 930 million by the end of 2019. Sub-Saharan Africa’s mobile penetration of 70% is fast approaching the global rate of 92%, Ericsson says.

Breaking it down by region, West Africa and Southern Africa account for the biggest portion of mobile users with Nigeria and South Africa the biggest countries for number of mobile subscriptions. The biggest increase in mobile users so far this year occurred in Nigeria, followed by the Congo, Uganda and Ghana.

But for the growth to continue, Ericsson says there needs to be more collaboration between governments, regulators and companies.

“Big numbers don’t happen automatically,” said Fredrik Jejdling, the head for sub-Saharan Africa at Ericsson.

In addition to more cooperation, Ericsson says data prices need to come down further, the cost of smartphones needs to decrease and rural areas, where 75% of the population lives, need to get more ICT coverage. In a survey done by the company, 47% of users in sub-Saharan Africa said data is still too costly even though the prices have come down in recent years. And if phone makers come out with a smartphone device that is $50 or cheaper, which should happen in the next few years, Ericsson says there will be a further boost to mobile use.

Given the high use of mobile phones over desktop computers to access the internet, the region is uniquely positioned to grow on social networks and mobile banking applications, Ericsson says. The report said 70% of mobile users browse the internet on their phone versus 6% who use desktop computers.

“Mobile users in the region have shown a preference for using their device for a variety of activities that are normally performed on laptops,” the report says. One example is mobile banking.

For mobile providers, though, the trick is to get more of the users on contracts. Ericsson’s report says 99% of subscriptions in Nigeria in 2013 were prepaid with 98% in Kenya and 83% in South Africa prepaid. That leads to volatile loyalty for brands, Ericsson says.