/ 23 December 2009

Africa sees massive growth in mobile web usage

Having swept America and conquered Europe, social networking site Facebook is now spreading rapidly through Africa.

From the deserts of Libya to the plains of Tanzania, Facebook is fast becoming the continent’s most visited mobile site as Africans use their phones to access the internet, according to a new report.

Even micro-blogging phenomenon Twitter is making an impact, appearing as the ninth most visited mobile internet site in South Africa and Kenya, according to a study by Oslo-based mobile software developer Opera of the top ten “mobile web” countries in Africa.

The most popular African destination on the mobile web, is Facebook. The social networking site is visited by users of Opera’s mobile web browser in six out of the 10 countries surveyed by the company.

Google is either number one or two in every African state except Kenya where Yahoo! dominates.

Email services such as Hotmail and Gmail are also popular as is YouTube. The online video site has its highest rankings in Egypt, at number three, and Libya, at number four.

Among news sources, the BBC figures strongly in the top ten most visited sites in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Namibia and Zambia. CNN features prominently in the top ten in Nigeria, Ghana and Zambia. They are the only two western news sources among the most popular mobile internet destinations across the ten African countries analysed by the Opera survey.

Sport features strongly with French sports newspaper L’Équipe the sixth most visited mobile web site in Côte d’Ivoire. Egyptian mobile phone users flock to Arabic language sports portal Filgoal.com and Libyans prefer rival Koora.com.

Mobile usage is ballooning across the continent and the African mobile phone market — at more than 400-million subscribers — is now larger than in North America. Some countries, such as South Africa, have ‘mobile penetration levels’ — the number of handsets compared with size of population — close to those of Western Europe.

For many people in Africa, cellphones are the only way that they will ever get access to the internet because of the poor quality, and often complete lack, of fixed-line networks. Fierce competition has pushed mobile prices down for consumers while many of the latest crop of handsets available in Africa allow easy access to the mobile internet. Web browsers can also be installed on older cellphones.

The mobile web browser developed by Opera is the most popular in Africa, accounting for more than half the market, and in its latest State of the Mobile Web report, Opera estimates that the number of handsets using its browser across the top ten African states has leapt 177% in the past year. The report looks at South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Libya, Côte d’Ivoire, Zambia, Tanzania and Namibia. Opera refuses to give overall customer numbers for Africa, but in its largest market — South Africa — it had 1,5-million unique users in October.

Internet-enabled handsets are being used to access ever more mobile web sites, with page views shooting up 374% between November 2008 and last month. In some countries such as Kenya and Zambia, hundreds of pages are being accessed each month as handsets are often used by more than one person to get online. Across the continent roadside kiosks proliferate where people ‘rent out’ mobile phones. At first the devices were little more than a replacement for public phone boxes, allowing people to call friends and family, but increasingly they are being hired out as computers, allowing those who cannot afford a device of their own, to access the internet on a regular basis.

Opera’s mobile phone internet browser is the most popular worldwide, used by almost 27% of all mobile internet users. The iPhone is in second place with Nokia’s web browser in third, between them the top three account for nearly 70% of the market, according to data from StatCounter. Opera estimates that it has more than 41,7-million users worldwide, up from about 16,4-million in November last year, helped in part by the pre-installed browser in many recent models of smartphones. – guardian.co.uk