Africa and the Mobile Handset Series – Part 1

Africa and the Mobile Handset Series – Part 1

Africa’s mobile market is the fastest growing in the world, growing at twice the global rate.

A consistent market growth can be witnessed with the rapid innovation of new products and solutions for the African mobile user by mobile carriers and content developers. In this part of the series: Africa and the mobile handset, we shall delve into details of mobile subscription in Africa, mobile internet that is currently the major focus for most mobile carriers and the recent trends in mobile service(s) pricing.

Africa has over 260 million mobile subscribers, with at least 27 in every 100 people owning a mobile phone. In North Africa, 53 out of 100 people own mobile phones, while in South Africa, at least 87 out of 100 people own mobile phones. 2 Mobile subscription penetration rates are expected to exceed 40% by the end of 2010, according to an International Telecommunications Union report released this year.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Africa are taking advantage of their IP-based data networks to extend internet services to users of internet-capable mobile phones. Partnerships between MNOs, web companies and handset manufacturers are already being created. A recent partnership was made between Huawei Telecom, Google and Kenya-based Safaricom to introduce a fairly priced Android phone for the Kenyan mobile market. The Huawei Ideos was launched this year in Nairobi and it will be retailing at approximately 100 US dollars. The launch of the Huawei Ideos followed an announcement earlier this year in Kenya at the Gkenya event to open the Android market for Kenyan developers to publish both free and paid mobile apps for the Android market. All these developments are positive indicators of a growing market that is still fairly developed but has high potential for investors.

Mobile internet usage in Africa is on the rise, and in some developed markets like South Africa, innovative products such as Mxit, an Instant Messaging application, are more popular than facebook.. In Nigeria, mobile internet usage has surpassed computer internet usage with up to 7.3 million Nigerians browsing the internet using their mobile phones. The adoption of internet-capable phones in Africa is also on the rise as the prices for high-end feature phones and smart phones continue to drop globally.

While mobile internet usage in Africa continues to grow, mobile data charges have dropped drastically. These prices will even drop further as mobile network operators expand their data infrastructure across the continent, courtesy of the undersea fibre-optic cable that has now reached many African countries. The fibre-optic cable extension has also also increased connectivity speeds which had greatly slowed down the adoption of internet services on the continent. In Uganda, data charges were as high as 1 dollar per MB of data. In less than one year, prices have dropped to as low as 10 dollars for a 350 MB mobile data package.

However, the major challenge with the adoption of mobile internet in Africa is that there is not a lot of content that is available online that suits the African context. African societies are fragmented, and the lack of a common language makes it very hard to develop universal content or information. It would require content and application developers to translate their products into so many languages. There’s a need to develop language translation systems for African languages.

In part two of the series, we shall delve into the growth of the mobile applications market in Africa, building  mobile applications and content for Africa, and how innovative mobile applications can be relevant to the African mobile user.

1 http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/connect/africa/2007/media/kit/africa_ict.html
2 http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/statistics/at_glance/af_ictindicators_2007.html

By Allan Atukunda

Allan Atukunda is a software engineer with four years experience as a programmer and writer. He is also a mobile computing advocate in Africa with a vision to transform Africa through mobile communication technology. Allan believes that Africa can be used as a test bed for new and innovative mobile technology solutions, and encourages investors to take advantage of the fast growing mobile technology sector on the continent.

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