News Column

Bright future for mobile Internet in sub-Saharan Africa region

June 22, 2014

Sturmius Mtweve ,The Citizen Reporter -1

Dar es Salaam. Mobile Internet usage in Sub-Saharan Africa is making remarkable strides, a trend predicted to increase twice the global usage in five years, according to Sub-Saharan Africa Ericson Mobility Report 2014.

Mobile technology in Africa, which has evolved very fast, already shows that searches that are made from mobile devices are many times more common than they were some few years ago. The development is attributed to the recent adoption and use of Internet-enabled devices.

On the whole, there's really one reason for preferring surfing the Internet from a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet, which that people are constantly moving nowadays, so there's always time to quickly browse the Internet from their mobile devices than doing the same using personal computers.

Of recent for example, Tanzania ranks number two, after South Africa for purchasing and using smart phones in the sub-Saharan Africa region and now, is attracting various investors and manufacturers who are targeting it as an important business destination.

According to Ericsson Mobility Report 2014 for Sub-Saharan Africa which was released recently, Mobile Internet usage has been doubling annually, with usage expected to increase 20 times in the next five years.

It says by 2017, 3G technology will outstrip 2G to become the region's dominant form of mobile connection and predicts 930 million mobile subscriptions in Sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2019, with 557 million smart phone and 710 million broadband subscriptions.

It's from low cost smart phones and tablets entering the market, which now act as catalysts for the growth of diversified mobile content.

Apps are helping to tackle consumer entertainment, communication, utility and productivity needs.

Ericsson, one of the world leaders in communications technology and services, revealed recently the scale of the region's ongoing data revolution, with traffic growth doubling the past year.

The June 2014 Sub-Saharan Africa Ericsson Mobility Report shows that in 2014 phone users accessed 76,000 TB (terabyte) of data per month, double the 2013 figure of 37,500 TB per month. In 2015 the figures are expected to double again with mobile phone users accessing 147,000 TB per month.

The rise of social media, content-rich Apps and video accessed from a new range of cheaper smart phones have prompted the increase. Consumers in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria are also increasingly using video TV and media services from their smart phones.

Fredrik Jejdling, Regional Head of Ericsson Sub-Saharan Africa, says: "Sub-Saharan Africa is currently undergoing a mobile digital revolution with consumers, networks and even media companies are wakening up the possibilities of 3G and 4G technology. We have seen the trend emerging over a few years but in the past twelve months the digital traffic has increased over 100 per cent forcing us to revise our existing predictions."

In the next five years, the Report's findings show, the voice call traffic in Sub-Saharan Africa will double and there will be an explosion in mobile data with usage and the growth is projected to be 20 times between 2013 and 2019, which is twice the projected global expansion.

"The mobile phone is a leading communication device in the Sub-Saharan consumer market in which mobile users have shown preference of using their device for a variety of activities that are normally performed on laptops or desktops," says the report.

By 2019, the report predicts, 75 per cent of mobile subscriptions will be Internet inclusive (3G or 4G LTE).

Recent statistics show that more than 80 per cent of Africans own a mobile device, and that number is growing at a rate of 4.2 per cent every year. But so far, the majority of phones are not yet smart. Almost 63 per cent of connections are basic 2G and SMS, while 11 per cent has 3G connections.

This growth has been predicted following the launch in 2014 of a number of smart phones sold under $50 by a number of major device manufacturers allowing the rapid expansion of 3G and 4G technologies across the region. The 2014 Report predicts that in just three years' time 3G technology will become the dominant technology across the region.

Fredrik Jejdling, Regional Head of Ericsson Sub-Saharan Africa, says: "The rise of cheap smart phones will allow vast portions of the population – from middle classes in cities to small businesses in rural areas – access to mobile broadband.

"M-commerce can offer endless opportunities for entrepreneurs and we've found that farmers are fans of mobile wallets – as well as teenagers wanting to watch music videos on their smart phone."

Mobile broadband growth

Mobile broadband is becoming prominent in Sub-Saharan Africa as the region grows more reliant on mobile devices and society embraces mobility.

However, it suffers from the scarcity of spectrum. This means added traffic congestion, delays in network rollout, higher service costs and overall compromised quality of service.

The challenge stakeholders and operators face in dealing with such issues and providing affordable mobile services has a bearing on consumer attitudes towards telecommunications offerings.

About 47 per cent of Sub-Saharan mobile users believe that mobile data is still too expensive, even though they also believe that mobile data is cheaper and more accessible than fixed line Internet. The region is a relatively price-sensitive market.

For mobile services to fully flourish, costs must be minimised. Apps are helping to tackle consumer entertainment, communication, utility and productivity needs. Some are changing industry roles and assisting in social improvements in the region.

For example, MedAfrica is a mobile App which provides basic information about health and medicine and is accessible via all mobile phones – not just smart phones.

People can use the information independently, lowering the burden of care on physicians.

Patients with mild cases benefit from reduced travelling and queuing, while physicians can focus on more pressing cases.

Affordable access to mobile broadband is not a luxury, but a necessity in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

Consumer behaviour, trends

The rapid global and regional uptake of smart phones has changed the way people communicate and use the Internet.

This will transform all other industries. A new phase of rapidly diversifying smart phone use has emerged, as consumers are increasingly able to personalize the content they access. Across society people are looking for mobile innovations to improve their everyday lives.

Sub-Saharan mobile consumers use their devices throughout the day and in different locations and for a broad range of activities.

The growing trend of anytime, anywhere access to services and features is a key driver of mobile broadband use in the region.

In fact, mobile broadband is now the primary way that many Sub-Saharan consumers access the Internet.

About 70 per cent of mobile users in the countries researched in the region browse the web on their devices, compared to six per cent who use desktop computers.

As telecommunication technologies become a central part in the way businesses and society function, key stakeholders in the region such as government and network providers need to put resources in place that assist in dealing with consumer demand.

More spectrums will need to be allocated to support networks, as their capacity is not growing as fast as the increase in data traffic.

Consumers believe that mobile services can enhance satisfaction of certain activities such as shopping, banking and leisure time. Digital or mobile services can also help improve sectors like agriculture, education, transportation and healthcare, as well as communication with government and local authorities.

Mobile banking technology

The report says mobile banking is one such example where digital services, via a mobile phone, have moved beyond urban centers to peripheral surroundings and beyond, with significant uptake and usage in rural areas. Such areas in Sub-Saharan Africa typically experience significantly more social challenges, that is unemployment, and a lack of adequate and organised transportation systems when compared to their urban counterparts. Mobile banking has provided consumers with cheaper access to their finances due to a reduced need to travel and the lower overall cost of using a mobile phone for financial transactions.

The large number of people in Sub-Saharan Africa who do not have bank accounts suggest that mobile phones could be the only way that many people will be able to access financial services.

There is strong interest in mobile financial services in Sub-Saharan Africa. 58 percent of mobile users in the region show an interest in using mobile banking and mobile wallets in future. This innovation is boosting financial inclusion at all levels of society across the region.

In Tanzania, as of recent, people, regardless of their economic status or sex orientations in both rural and urban areas access financial services through their mobile phones. They can send and receive money, deposit money in their bank accounts –as well as settle their bills at any time.

From an operational and technological standpoint, mobile banking has become a credible and the most preferred transaction mode that has attracted up to 12 million mobile users in Tanzania, according to the recent Fiscope Tanzania 2013 statistics.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Citizen, The (Tanzania)

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