In Africa, much more than a simple communication channel, the mobile is above all a tool for work, financial transactions or commerce, to name but a few examples. In barely two decades, the number of mobile phone subscriptions has grown strongly on the continent, with the number jumping from 180% between 2008 and 2018.
Having become essential for populations, the democratization of mobile phones plays a crucial role in the economic growth of the African continent, notably supporting social development and job creation.
Mobile telephony at the heart of the digital revolution in Africa
According to a GSMA study published in 2021, 495 million people had subscribed to the services of mobile operators by the end of the year 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa, an increase of almost 20 million compared to 2019. The number of mobile subscribers is expected to grow further in the coming years, with the doubling of the population by 2050 according to United Nations projections being the main source of growth in the mobile industry. Indeed, in less than thirty years, experts estimate that the number of inhabitants should reach 2.4 billion, half of whom will then be under 25 years old.. However, this increasingly connected youth and increasingly using online services will be at the initiative of this growth in the mobile telephony market, the number of subscribers to rise to 615 million, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, by 2025.
This increase underlines the high penetration rate of mobile phones on the continent, particularly smartphones, notwithstanding strong disparities between regions and countries. Indeed, in 2016, 700 million Africans used a mobile, half being smartphones. Four years later, more than 600 million people owned a smartphone. While these figures may be biased – many Africans having an average of two telephones for technical and/or economic reasons – the number of unique subscribers is nevertheless indicative of the enthusiasm of users for the adoption of telephony. mobile. Thus, from 495 million unique subscribers in 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa, this number could increase to 615 million in 2025.. This increase goes hand in hand with the increase in mobile data, with Africa and the Middle East region experiencing the highest traffic of said data, marked by a growth of 96% in 2016.. There is no doubt that since then, this percentage has increased exponentially with democratization and the increase in smartphone sales.
Internet access platform, the popularization of mobile in Africa has been conditioned by the increase in the rate of Internet penetration, telephone and connectivity evolving in a convergent ecosystem. Indeed, without connectivity, owning a mobile phone seems absurd. At the same time, without a rapid and gradual democratization of mobile, the deployment of widespread and affordable network coverage would probably be greatly weakened.
This would be a shame when we know that the use of mobile phones – more and more smartphones – continues to revolutionize parts of the economy in Africa. Indeed, by transforming economic exchanges, telephony and network access create many job opportunities, while stimulating the economic growth of countries, and de facto, of the continent. The example of sub-Saharan Africa is relatively eloquent, mobile technologies and services having generated 8% of GDP in 2020 and having provided some 300,000 formal jobs, more than 1 million informal, while supporting 1.8 million additional jobs in other sectors of the economy. In doing so, they play a crucial role in improving people’s living conditions, for example facilitating access to administrative services, healthcare, trade and education.
The rise and generalization of mobile telephony have also upset – in the sense of favoring here – access to financial and banking services, proof of the growing demand for solutions to meet the challenge of under-banking. Witness the dazzling evolution of mobile money and mobile banking in the heart of the Covid-19 crisis: the African continent thus remained the leader in money transactions via mobiles in 2020, the number of accounts increased from 469 million to 548 million, an increase of 12%.
For an optimization of the potential of the mobile industry
Notwithstanding the strong potential of the mobile telephony market in Africa in terms of growth and socio-economic development, the population’s enthusiasm for cellphones could be curbed due to the challenges that remain to be met.
The issue of infrastructure – insufficient with regard to the demand and needs of the ever-growing population – is first of all central, in the sense that it creates opportunities and jobs. However, some territories and regions of the continent are faced with a lack of infrastructure, thus leading to inequalities in access to the network and ultimately in the deployment of mobile telephony. Two problems are particularly inherent in the white areas on the continent: the lack of electrification and the problem of transmission, this therefore obstructing the establishment of the infrastructures necessary for the optimal deployment of the network.
The figures are eloquent on this subject: 300 million Africans live more than 50 kilometers from a broadband connection by or by cable.. The GSMA rightly recalls that the penetration rate of mobile Internet was only 16% in rural areas compared to 40% in urban areas on the continent. This situation is highly detrimental, especially as Africa is gradually taking the lead in the Fourth Digital Revolution. Furthermore, the growing demand for mobile connectivity will force operators to scale up mobile network connection speeds, thus 4G networks will be rolled out on a larger scale on the continent. The proportion of mobile data will then be multiplied.
Aware of the issues related to the issue of infrastructure and the improvement of network quality, Huawei offers concrete solutions to strengthen connectivity and thus remove obstacles to network coverage. Our company has thus deployed the RuralStar Pro solution in ten countries on the continent with the aim of improving mobile Internet coverage in remote areas. In doing so, more than 4.5 million people from some 1,000 villages were able to access a quality connection.
In addition, it is important to emphasize that the question of infrastructures is partly linked to their financial cost, which is far too expensive for operators and ultimately unprofitable in the short term, especially in remote areas. Consequently, the costs of mobile telephony and Internet connection are also high, especially in Central Africa. With a presence dating back to 1997, Huawei provides African states and populations with its expertise in the field of ICT, thus working to reduce connection costs.
However, our action is not confined solely to the development of infrastructure – physical and digital – which, while essential to the deployment of network coverage, is not the only prerequisite. The lack of knowledge and skills in ICT (information and communication technologies) hindering the optimal deployment of mobile telephony in Africa, investing in education is therefore essential. A committed player on the continent for more than twenty years, Huawei is mobilizing in favor of education, convinced that the digital future of the continent cannot be fully deployed without a population trained in new digital technologies, their challenges and opportunities. The deployment of key programs and initiatives such as the Huawei ICT Academy or Seeds for the Future reflect our ambition.
In addition to training, in order for the mobile industry to become a powerful vector for the socio-economic growth of African States, it is essential to develop and support collaboration between public and private actors and to put in place regulations that encourage and promote investment and innovation. Africa’s growth rate coupled with its strong demographic potential may soon make the continent the Eldorado of mobile telephony. It is therefore essential to give Africa the means to realize this aspiration.
By Adnane Ben Halima, Vice President in charge of public relations of Huawei Northern Africa
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