Home to about 246 million people, the mobile penetration rate in Eastern Africa ranges from 5% in Eritrea to 40% in Kenya. Its subscription base grew by 21% since 2008 and is projected to grow annually at a rate of 8% for the next five years. Subsequently, the use of smartphones increased and is also projected to account for 4 of every 10 connections by 2020. Although the region will remain heavily focused on 2G services, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have witnessed the launch of the 4G.
However, the overall penetration rates remain below the average for Sub Saharan Africa (SSA)and global averages despite growth in recent years. Only 28% of the population at the end of 2013 had a mobile subscription which was less than that of SSA which registered 36% new subscriptions. Nevertheless, the general regional and continental growth continue to be significant.
The continent’s mobile subscription count will reach one billion in 2015 and 1.2 billion by end of 2018, according to forecasts by Informa Telecoms & Media. Mobile voice revenues in Africa are predicted to continue growing over the next few years. Mobile data usage and revenues also strongly grew a significantly faster rate. Annual mobile data revenues on the continent are expected to rise from $8.5 billion in 2012 to $23 billion in 2018.
Smartphones and other data-capable devices have become affordable in the region as a result of competition, technological developments and economies of scale in the device business. This will result in the rise of the number of smartphone connections in Africa from the 79 million in 2012 to 412 million by 2018 according to Africa’s Telecoms Outlook.
Google’s Android is spurring the growth of the region’s smartphone market by offering cheap smartphones. International Data Corporation notes that 89% of all smartphones shipped during the first quarter of 2015 were powered by Android most of which priced under $100. Smartphones have become increasingly popular thus bolstering markets to manufacturers overtaking the dominant market of feature phones.
A rise in data connectivity in Africa created the platform for a range of new digital services on the continent such as mobile financial services, e-commerce, and services for the business market. The successful uptake of the mobile phones throughout the developing world has significantly impacted economic development initiatives. Governments, private corporations, and nonprofit organizations use mobile and internet connection networks to introduce new and creative services to users.
State and private banks make money transfer faster while giant international service providers such as Jovago.com has made hotel booking easier and accessible bringing over 200,000 hotels online. Certainly, the use of data services is strongly fueled by factors such as the continent’s improved international connectivity, the roll out of mobile broadband networks and the increasing availability of low-cost smartphones. Africa has earned recognition in mobile money as it records rapid growth in online shopping and a propagation of digital ventures that is continuously expanding.