Africa at cutting edge of mobile innovation

M-Pesa was launched in 2007 by Vodafone's Kenyan affiliate, Safaricom, in partnership with Equity Bank. (AFP)

M-Pesa was launched in 2007 by Vodafone's Kenyan affiliate, Safaricom, in partnership with Equity Bank. (AFP)

A number of recent reports released by PwC, Deloitte and the GSM Association have confirmed this growing trend.

It is generally accepted that Africa has more than 500-million mobile subscribers across its 54 countries, although telecoms analysts Informa Telecoms & Media forecast this week that this number would be as high as 750-million before the end of 2012 and would reach one billion by 2015. Considering that the number of mobile subscribers in Africa was 16-million in 2000, the year when mobile overtook fixed subscribers on the continent, this growth is impressive.

What is more interesting is the way Africa is leading the way in developing mobile applications.

A recent report from PwC's quarterly journal Communications Review, titled Telecoms in Africa: Innovating and Inspiring, says: "In addition to being one of the world's most dynamic telecom markets, Africa is also among the most innovative, a global testing laboratory and a leader in ­digital and mobile-enabled applications in areas like payments, commerce, health and education."

Success stories such as Kenya's banking system M-Pesa have established a new narrative for Africa, one that positions it as a mobile innovation hub as opposed to a continent that implements technology developed in the West.

Telecoms markets
According to the PwC report, $78.8-billion (R689-billion) was invested in the telecoms sector in Africa in 2008 and this figure is expected to be as high as $145.8-billion (R1.28-trillion) by 2015, an 85% increase.

Mobile currently accounts for 68.9% of all investment in African telecoms markets.

At the beginning of 2008 there were 158 mobile players in Africa. There are now more than 200.

As access to the internet via cellphones becomes more widely available in Africa, it is having an increasingly positive impact on lifestyle and wellbeing, including boosting financial inclusion and healthcare.

The PwC report said mobile ­payments and commerce were among the biggest areas of service opportunity, reflecting the potential to use mobile and broadband to reach Africa's large unbanked population and assist them in participating in mainstream financial services.

Mobile applications
M-Pesa, launched in 2007 by Vodafone's Kenyan affiliate, Safaricom, in partnership with Equity Bank, is one such success story.

CGAP, an independent policy and research centre aimed at advancing financial access for the world's poor, said 1.7-billion people in developing countries would have mobile phones but no bank accounts by the end of 2012.

A recent report by Deloitte and the GSM Association, titled Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Observatory 2012, found that the region was leading in terms of mobile applications, with 50 such projects in development in 2011, compared with only 20 in East Asia and fewer in the rest of the world.

A 2009 United Nations survey found that Africa had the most mobile health projects, namely 21.

It is now believed that the number is much higher, and includes such applications as mPedigree, a service to verify the authenticity of medicine.

Lloyd Gedye

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