Growing Africa mobile phone use pushes up global subscription

An agent registers a phone user’s SIM card. Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, together, account for 80 per cent of global subscription. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO
An agent registers a phone user’s SIM card. Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, together, account for 80 per cent of global subscription. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO 

Growing use of mobile phones in African countries like Kenya has pushed global subscription to the five billion mark, a new survey by telecoms infrastructure firm Ericsson shows, giving signals to investors on where to put their bets.

It has taken less than 18 months to enlist one billion people to mobile phones, the report shows, adding that the main drivers of growth continue to be Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, which together accounted for 80 per cent of global subscription.

Emerging markets growth is driven by value addition such as the mobile money transfer services that the operators are rolling out.

In Kenya, people who don’t have access to a bank or a bank account are increasingly turning to mobile money transfer services such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa or Zain’s Zap to send money.

Fishermen and farmers can get quick updates on sudden changes in the weather forecast, villagers can get local medical care, and children can access online education, says Ericsson.

Statistics from the telecommunication regulator, Communication Commission of Kenya (CCK) indicates that Kenya has close to 10 million mobile money transfer users with Safaricom’s M-Pesa leading with 9.5 million while Zap has 400,000 users.

The country has slightly more than 20 million mobile subscribers.

Mobile money transfer also facilitates daily operations of small businesses and drives economic growth.

Through joint ventures between Sony Ericsson and ST Ericsson, the two companies enable access to new services and enrich individual’s Internet, multimedia and user experience through innovations in device design, multimedia platforms, smart mobility and entertainment.

“Over 100 million of these will come from sub-Saharan Africa. Studies show that soon 80 per cent of all people accessing the internet will be doing so using their mobile device as is already the case in Africa.”

Today, there are 450 million mobile subscriptions in Africa as compared to the 10 years ago when there were only about 16 million subscriptions, a figure below the number of phone users in Ghana alone.

In more mature markets, connected devices rather than people, are driving the increase in network traffic.

According to Ericsson’s vision we will reach 50 billion connections by the end of this decade.

The communication landscape is changing rapidly and in December 2009, another milestone was reached when the amount of data traffic carried over mobile networks exceeded the amount of traffic generated from voice calls.

Machine-to-machine communications, or M2M, will be a key component in the future growth of the mobile industry.

Medical applications include remote medical diagnostics which would facilitate the collection, monitoring, and analysis of patient data from rural and/or isolated locations.

For energy companies it could be smart meters that read themselves, increase business efficiency and cut operational expenses.

In transportation — tracking solutions improve route optimisation and safety for vehicles on the road and even digital signs that can be updated remotely, cameras that can send pictures halfway around the world are other examples that machine-to-machine technology make possible.