Sub-Saharan Africa’s mobile phone subscribers are expected to surpass 500 million by the end of 2020, said a report launched on Tuesday by a global association of mobile operators.
The GSM Association (GSMA) forecasts the number of unique mobile subscribers in ub-Saharan Africa will grow from 420 million at the end of 2016 to 535 million in 2020, making it the fastest growing region in the world over this period
“Sub-Saharan Africa will be a key engine of subscriber growth for the world’s mobile industry over the next few years as we connect millions of previously unconnected men, women and young people across the continent,” said Mats Granryd, Director General of the GSMA.
“Mobile is also offering sustainable solutions that address the lack of access to services such as health, education, electricity, clean water and financial services, which still affect large swathes of the population,” Granryd added.
The new report, “The Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2017” highlights the mobile ecosystem’s growing contribution to the region’s GDP, job creation, innovation and socio-economic development.
It said subscriber growth is expected to be concentrated in large, underpenetrated markets such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania, which together will account for half of the 115 million new subscribers expected in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.
It said growth will also also focus on currently under-represented segments such as the under-16 age group, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the population in many countries, and women, who are currently 17 percent less likely to have a mobile phone subscription than men.
According to GSMA, mobile is also a vital tool in delivering digital and financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Around 270 million people in the region now access the internet through mobile devices, while the number of registered mobile money accounts has reached 280 million,” it said.
It finds that mobile operators and others are also leveraging the ubiquity of mobile networks across the region to deliver services that are working towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in areas such as energy, water and sanitation, healthcare, and education.
“As Sub-Saharan Africa transitions to higher levels of mobile engagement, underpinned by growing access to mobile data services and smart devices, we are seeing a flourishing mobile ecosystem emerge, supported by growing investments by operators and others in mobile-focused start-ups and tech hubs,” Granryd said.
Mobile technologies and services generated 110 billion dollars of economic value in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016, equivalent to 7.7 percent of regional GDP, a figure expected to grow to 142 billion dollars (8.6 percent of GDP) by 2020.
The mobile ecosystem also supported approximately 3.5 million jobs in the region last year, and made a 13-billion-dollar contribution to the public sector in the form of taxation.
Local mobile operators have invested 37 billion dollars in their networks over the past five years, mainly to deploy new 3G/4G mobile broadband networks.
About a third of mobile connections in region were running on mobile broadband networks at the end of last year, forecast to rise to 60 percent by 2020.
These new networks, alongside rising smartphone adoption, are driving demand for digital content and services.