Nairobi – Mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to surpass 500 million by the end of 2020.
According to a report launched on Tuesday by the GSM Association (GSMA) forecasts the number of unique mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa will grow from 420 million at the end of 2016 to 535 million in 2020.
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.
This, the association said, will make it the fastest growing region in the world over this period on mobile phones.
Mats Granryd, Director-General of the GSMA said: “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.
“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.”
It said subscriber growth was expected to be concentrated in large, underpenetrated markets such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania.
All these from the countries will together account for half of the 115 million new subscribers expected in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020.
It said growth would also focus on currently under-represented segments such as the under-16 age group, which accounts for more than 40 per cent of the population in many countries.
Women, who are currently 17 per cent 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).
The SDGs will focus energy, water and sanitation, healthcare, education among others.
“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 per cent of regional GDP.
This a figure expected to grow to 142 billion dollars (8.6 per cent of GDP) by 2020.
The mobile ecosystem also supported approximately 3.5 million jobs in the region in 2016, 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 2016, forecast to rise to 60 per cent by 2020.
These new networks, alongside rising smartphone adoption, are driving demand for digital content and services.