South Africa is set for a mobile data explosion

South Africa is set to experience an explosion in mobile data usage, with nine-fold growth predicted in the next four years.

On the face of it, that shouldn’t be all that surprising. Ever since the first cellphones arrived in the country in the mid 90s, South Africa has been mobile-obsessed. For some time now, the country has had more mobile phones in use than people. Smartphones have seen rapid uptake too. But even as smartphones have become increasingly affordable, the data that allows them to be smart has remained unaffordable for many.

According to networking giant Cisco, that is about to change in seriously big way.

By 2020, the company predicts in its latest Visual Networking Index (VNI) Mobile Forecast, mobile data traffic will grow nine-fold in South Africa, at a compound annual growth rate of 55%.

While Cisco doesn’t suggest that data will become any more affordable, it does predict an even greater uptake of smart devices, as well as a proliferation of high-speed mobile connections.

In the case of the former, South Africa is set to follow global trends in the space. According to Cisco, more people will have mobile phones (5.4 billion) than electricity (5.3 billion), running water (3.5 billion) and cars (2.8 billion) by 2020. In South Africa, 63% of mobile connections will be ‘smart’ connections by 2020, up from 22% in 2015.

And when it comes to the infrastructure powering those connections, it looks like 4G is set to play an increasingly important role.

In South Africa, 4G connections will grow 8-fold from 2015 to 2020, a compound annual growth rate of 50% and will account for 45.1% of total mobile data traffic by 2020, compared to 21.7% at the end of 2015.

“With Africa being a mobile hub, we are beginning to realise the immense potential that a variety of mobile services can offer,” says Cisco South Africa Chief Technology Officer Vernon Thaver. “South Africa’s journey to digitisation is dependent on the growth of mobile and the necessity of ensuring that high speed internet is available not only in homes and offices but also public places like shopping centres. The findings highlight that service providers in South Africa have immense opportunities to innovatively deliver a variety of mobile services and experiences to consumers and business users as the Internet of Everything (IoE) continues to take shape.”

The unstoppable rise of mobile video

And if you’re wondering what South Africans will be using all that extra mobile data on, the answer lies in mobile video. According to Cisco, video will account for 73% of South African mobile data traffic by 2020, compared to 52% at the end of 2015. Consumer and business users’ demand for higher video resolution, more bandwidth, and processing speed will increase the use of 4G connected devices. 4G connectivity share is projected to surpass 2G by 2018 and 3G by 2020.

The machines are coming

Of course, it’s not just mobile phones and tablets that make use of mobile data. Machine to Machine (M2M) communication and wearables also play a mjor role. M2M refers to applications that enable wireless and wired systems to communicate with other devices of the same ability (e.g., GPS/navigation, asset tracking, utility meters, security/surveillance video, healthcare monitoring, etc.) In South Africa, M2M traffic will grow 24-fold from 2015 to 2020 to account for eight percent of total mobile data traffic by 2020, compared to three percent at the end of 2015.

Globally, wearables will grow six-fold from 2015 to 2020.

“With the ever-increasing billions of people and things that are being connected, mobility is the predominant medium that’s enabling today’s global digitization transformation,” says Thaver. “Future mobile innovations in cellular, such as 5G, and Wi-Fi solutions will be needed to further address new scale requirements, security concerns, and user demands. IoT advancements will continue to fuel tangible benefits for people, businesses, and societies”.



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