Africa to have 1bn mobile subscribers by 2015

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We all know that mobile in Africa is a big deal. It allowed countries to leapfrog some Western technologies and has fostered innovative products like Mpesa. Less well known is the actual number of mobile subscribers. Hint: it’s big, and will only get bigger.

The number of mobile subscriptions in Africa will cross the 750-million mark during the fourth quarter of 2012 and reach one-billion before the end of 2015.

That’s according to forecasts by Informa Telecoms & Media, which says that the number of mobile subscriptions in Africa will grow by 17.5% over the year to end-2012, a higher rate than in any other major world region and above the world average of 10.75% over the same period.

Those kind of numbers mean that Africa has the highest rate of growth in mobile subscriptions among major world regions. The continent also has the world’s second-biggest mobile market region by subscription count, behind Asia-Pacific but ahead of Latin America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, North America and the Middle East. Africa’s mobile-subscription count overtook that of both Western Europe and Latin America during 2011.

“Africa’s mobile market continues to grow robustly, driven by competition among mobile operators, the availability of new data services and strong economic growth on the continent,” said Matthew Reed, principal analyst for Africa and the Middle East at Informa Telecoms & Media.

“And substantial opportunities for further growth remain, because the rate of mobile penetration in Africa is the lowest among major world regions and fixed networks are under-developed or absent across much of the continent.”

Informa reckons that The number of mobile subscriptions in Africa will reach 761-million at end-2012, and will rise to 1.13 billion at end-2017. Nigeria, which crossed the 100-million mobile subscriptions threshold in the second quarter of 2012, will continue to be Africa’s biggest mobile market and is forecasted to have 168.99-million subscriptions at end-2017, followed by Egypt with 129.4-million subscriptions at end-2017.

The rate of mobile penetration in Africa at end-September was 67.55%, which was the lowest rate among major world regions and some way below the world average of 91%.

According to Informa, the take-up of mobile data services is growing strongly in Africa, “as a result of the roll-out of 3G networks, the increasing affordability of data-enabled devices and huge improvements in international connectivity following the deployment of new submarine cables connecting the continent to the rest of the world”.

Operators in five African countries (Angola, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania) have meanwhile launched LTE services in recent months, ahead of some ostensibly more-developed European markets.

However, LTE subscription numbers in Africa are very low at present, at an estimated 5 000, and take-up of LTE services, says Informa, “is likely to be limited to niche markets of more-affluent business and consumer customers for the coming few years”.

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