Africans’ use of mobile phones to get on internet tipped to rise 20-fold by 2019
Internet use on mobile phones expected to rise 20-fold in next five years
Africa's claim to be the "mobile continent" is even stronger than thought, with internet use on mobile phones expected to increase 20-fold in the next five years - double the rate of growth in the rest of the world.
Africans use mobiles for online activities that others perform on laptops or desktop computers, as the technology overcomes weak or non-existent landline infrastructure in large swathes of the world's poorest continent.
Declining prices of handsets and data, along with faster transmission speeds, mean Facebook, Twitter and cash transfer services can reach the remotest areas.
"Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a mobile digital revolution with consumers, networks and even media companies wakening up the possibilities of 3G and 4G technology," said Fredrik Jejdling, sub-Saharan Africa head of Swedish tech company Ericsson.
"We have seen the trend emerging over a few years, but in the past 12 months the digital traffic has increased over 100 per cent, forcing us to revise our predictions."
In five years, the research predicts, voice call traffic in sub-Saharan Africa will double and there will be an explosion in mobile data, with usage growing 20 times between 2013 and 2019. By the end of this year, it is forecast that there will be more than 635 million mobile subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa, rising to 930 million by late 2019. The growth is attributed to the rise of social media, content-rich apps and video content accessed from a new range of cheap smartphones.
The mobile has had a unique impact on Africa because of its lack of physical connectivity and access to reliable electricity. The report says 70 per cent of users in the countries it researched browse the web on mobile devices, compared with just 6 per cent who use desktops.
Mobile banking has given consumers cheaper access to their finances, it says, reducing the need to travel to bank branches. "The large number of people in sub-Saharan Africa who do not have bank accounts suggests mobiles may be the only way that many people will be able to access financial services."
The authors also cite the example of MedAfrica as a mobile app providing basic information about health and medicine, reducing travel and the pressure on doctors. "Affordable access to mobile broadband is not a luxury, but a necessity in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa," they say.
The sub-Saharan countries with the most mobile subscriptions are Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ghana.
Arthur Goldstuck, of World Wide Worx, a technology research firm in Johannesburg, said: "Until a few years ago the quality of access was so poor that people had the devices but weren't really using it. Now it's changing. There is massive pent-up demand: suddenly the floodgates are opening."