Opinion

An insight into Africa's mobile landscape

16 Jun 2015 by GrahamSmith

Eran Feinstein is the founder of 3G Direct Pay Limited, a global e-commerce and online payments solutions for the travel and related industries
 

The mobile landscape in continental Africa is one of the most dynamic and unique in the entire world.

Mobile phones are relatively cheap, are conveniently portable, and have opened up African nations to the world in a way that has never been seen before.

It’s no wonder the mobile landscape of the African continent has advanced so rapidly. As mobile phones have become continuously more ubiquitous, tremendous benefits have sprung up along with them.
 

Statistics and advancements on the African Continent

The past decade has seen the adoption of new mobile technologies advance more rapidly in many African countries than anywhere else in the world.

In the year 2000, for example, Nigeria’s mobile phone subscribers numbered 30,000; today, they number 140 million. That is 87 per cent of Nigeria’s population that now has access to mobile technology.

Other parts of the continent report similar findings. In 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, almost two-thirds – 65 per cent – of households had at least one mobile phone in 2013. In Zimbabwe, that number has skyrocketed, climbing from 26 per cent in 2008 to a massive 80 per cent in 2013.

According to a recent infographic by ihub, things are no different in East Africa with Kenya reporting 75.8 per cent mobile tele-density in August 2013, Uganda reporting 52 per cent and Tanzania coming in at 61 per cent.

Mobile is changing lives

While, clearly, the mobile revolution in continental Africa has opened up the channels of communication in a way that has never been seen before, there are also other, unexpected, benefits.

Health

The prevalence of mobile phones in Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries is impacting their healthcare systems in amazing ways, some of which have benefits that impact the entire world.

Not only does the technology allow for more rapid dissemination of new knowledge in the healthcare field, it is allowing health organisations to more effectively track the spread of disease and death rates, which therefore help to shape national and global health strategies.

Additionally, vaccine shortages can more easily be avoided thanks to virtual stock data, and healthcare providers can more easily access medical records, set appointments, and remind the community of important dates, like vaccine clinics, via text.

With these kinds of advancements, the heath care industry is ripe for technology such as mobile apps that can remind patients when to take their medications, time labour contractions, record and retain vaccination records, provide urgent care or medical advice, and more.

For entrepreneurs and businessmen in the healthcare arena, Africa is an ideal market.

Education

Via Africa’s most popular social media network, Mxit, Nokia launched a mathematics teaching tool called MoMath. Through integration with Mxit’s instant messaging function, MoMath allows students to practice, read theory, and take tests.

This is just one of a myriad ways that widespread mobile phone usage is impacting educational systems in many African countries. Because mobiles are cheaper to use than a PC, and have a much gentler learning curve, the possibilities of reaching school-aged children – who may not be able to attend a traditional school – are immense.

Children’s education is not the only area that can benefit; given the number of new start-ups, incubators, and co-working hubs in East Africa, there is an increasing demand for adult education in areas of information technology, digital marketing, and business.

With widespread mobile availability, online education, webinars, and e-courses are a budding area of opportunity for the entrepreneur with the right curriculum.

Money management

In a 2013 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was revealed that 68 per cent of Kenyans and half of Ugandans regularly use their mobiles to complete mobile payments within the African continent.

This is a trend that can be seen in similar numbers throughout many countries in Africa, and mobile payment platforms have had a big impact on the way people from many African nations are managing their money.

The mobile money platform allows for secure and constant access to one’s money, 24/7. Those in more rural areas no longer have to make a long journey to reach a banking center, and those who work in metropolises can send money to family outside the city in a safe and secure manner.

Today, a farmer can accept payment for a kilo of bananas at the local farmer’s market via applications such as M-PESA, and taxi drivers can do the same to charge for fares; in fact, just about anyone with a product or service can conduct business and accept or issue payments at any point of sale, regardless of whether it’s on the street, online, or in a store front.

Economy

In 2013, 5.4 per cent of the GDP of all African nations, combined, was directly due to the increase in subscription and data usage seen because of mobile.

That number includes network operations and content creation; mobile usage has also had a direct impact on workplace productivity, to the tune of an estimated $33 billion. Even traditionally non-technological sectors have seen a boom after going mobile.

Take farming and agriculture, for example: farmers – one of the region’s largest employers – are now able to confer with others regarding fair market prices for crops, weather reporting, and even tips and best practices on animal husbandry.

Increasingly, entrepreneurs and investors are looking to Africa as a viable place for start-ups and new business opportunities; technology, education, and infrastructure have come together with low wages and cost of living, making the continent an ideal new frontier for business development and growth.

Predictions

Continental Africa’s mobile growth will continue to increase rapidly in the next ten years. The tech company Ericsson put together a report in 2014 estimating that mobile data usage will grow 20 times from 2013-2019, outpacing the expected global expansion rate by double.

It is predicted that mobile subscriptions will reach 930 million in 2019. As the number of advancements in network, affordable mobile phones and data plans increase over the next five years, so too shall those residing in African countries see the benefits of this massive mobile revolution.

Given the implications of this data, it is clear that now is a better time than ever for entrepreneurs and new businesses to move into the East African market, especially Kenya, where start-ups, accelerators, incubators, and co-sharing spaces are sprouting up everywhere, seemingly daily.


Read our contributor biography of Eran Feinstein

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