Cellphones create a technology leapfrog

It is forecast that there will be more than 635-million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2014. (Reuters)

It is forecast that there will be more than 635-million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2014. (Reuters)

Researchers have predicted that internet use on cellphones in Africa will increase twentyfold in the next five years – double the rate of growth in the rest of the world.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a mobile digital revolution, with consumers, networks and even media companies waking up to the possibilities of 3G and 4G technology,” said Fredrik Jejdling, sub-Saharan Africa head of Swedish technology company Ericsson.

“We have seen the trend emerging over a few years but in the past 12 months the digital traffic has increased over 100%, forcing us to revise our existing predictions.”

Ericsson’s research report, which was published this week, predicts that, in five years, voice call traffic in sub-Saharan Africa will double and there will be an explosion in mobile data, with usage growing 20 times between 2013 and 2019.

By the end of 2014, it is forecast that there will be more than 635-million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa, rising to about 930-million by late 2019. The growth is attributed to the rise of social media, content-rich applications and video content accessed from a new range of cheap smartphones.

Broadband access
Jejdling added: “The rise of cheap smartphones will allow vast portions of the population – from middle classes in cities to small businesses in rural areas – access to mobile broadband.”

“Mobile commerce can offer endless opportunities for entrepreneurs and we’ve found that farmers are fans of mobile wallets – as well as teenagers wanting to watch music videos on their smartphones.”

The cellphone has had a unique impact on Africa because of the continent’s relative lack of physical connectivity and access to reliable electricity. The report says that 70% of users in the countries it researched browse the web on mobile devices, compared with just 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 or desktops.”

‘Mobile-only continent’
Toby Shapshak, editor of South Africa’s Stuff magazine, said: “Africa is a mobile-only continent.
There never was landline infrastructure to begin with, apart from in urban areas. 

“Mobile has allowed anyone to have a phone in places that were previously [inaccessible] and uncontactable. It has also been enabled, from a business perspective, by prepaid payments that handily remove the equally widespread legacy problem in that very few people have bank accounts. It really is that technology leapfrog the industry likes to talk about.”

The cellphone is having a profound social impact, Shapshak added. “Better and faster internet access, which is still too highly priced, despite data cost reductions, means people can consume the news via their mobiles – something that is especially important, because so many African countries still control the major media outlets.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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