By Adeyemi Adepetun
Africa is expected to increase its mobile subscriptions by 60 million by 2025 from the current 382 million in 2018.
According to the Global System for Mobile communications Association (GSMA), which made the projection, in this, Nigeria is expected to champion that rise by adding an estimated 32 million new subscribers within the period. The country currently boasts of 249 million connected lines of which 173.6 million are active as at February.
GSMA in its Mobile Economy West Africa 2019 report presented at the GSMA 360 Mobile Series forum held in Abidjan, said Ghana is expected to add five million new subscribers; Cote d’Ivoire 4.2 million; Burkina Faso 3.5 million, other part of the Continent are expected to add 14 million new telephony users.
The GSMA represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting more than 750 operators with nearly 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and internet companies, as well as organisations in adjacent industry sectors.
According to the body, in the West African region, unique subscriptions will increase from 185 million in 2018 to 248 million by 2025. It pointed out that mobile Internet users will increase from 100 million to 183 million in six years time.
In terms of revenue, GSMA said operators in the region raked in $17 billion as at 2018 and it would increase to $18 billion by 2025. The body claimed that in terms of smartphone penetration, there is 38 per cent, which will rise to 67 per cent in six years time.
The GSM body disclosed that 4G has only penetrated the region by four per cent as at 2018 but will increase to 17 per cent by 2025, while 15 million 5G subscribers would have emerged by then.
The body noted that mobile industry plays an increasingly important role in accelerating social progress in West Africa. With a sizeable proportion of the sub-region’s population excluded from many services, mobile enabled digital platforms provide a vital opportunity to deliver solutions that can improve the livelihood of the most vulnerable people in the society and foster greater socioeconomic inclusion.
GSMA said across West Africa, the activities of mobile operators and other ecosystem players are enhancing digital and financial inclusion, driving innovation and supporting efforts to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In view of the significant contribution of mobile technology and the activities of mobile ecosystem players to socioeconomic development in West Africa, the body said governments and policymakers need to create and implement policies that can drive innovation and investments in new services and much needed network infrastructure in underserved areas.
The body noted that the availability of spectrum for mobile broadband and the assignment of spectrum on terms that encourage investments remain critical factors for the continued growth of the mobile industry. “Governments and regulators need to ensure that operators have access to sufficient spectrum in a timely and affordable manner; provide support for new network investments; and avoid costly restrictions on spectrum use.
In terms of digital inclusion, GSMA said access to the Internet has the potential to generate significant social and economic benefits for individuals and communities – from improved business efficiency to increased access to life enhancing services.
It noted that in West Africa, mobile is the primary platform for accessing the Internet; at the end of 2018, there were around 100 million mobile Internet users in the region, representing an increase of 19 million over the previous year.
However, GSMA said more than 280 million people in West Africa do not yet use the mobile Internet, most of them in underserved population groups, including women, low-income earners and rural dwellers.
The GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index provides a way to understand the underlying factors behind mobile Internet adoption levels in different countries. The tool measures the performance of 163 countries across the world, including 14 countries in West Africa, against key enabling factors for mobile Internet connectivity, namely: infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and content.
GSMA noted that most countries in West Africa score below the average index score for Sub-Saharan Africa. This, the body said underlines the scale of the challenge of enhancing digital inclusion in the sub-region.
While mobile operators have a pivotal role to play in driving digital inclusion, they face two key issues:
extending coverage remains economically challenging given the high costs of increasing coverage and issues related to consumer demand, and inconsistent and distortive regulation from governments restricts public and private investment in connecting the unconnected.
Overcoming these barriers, according to GSMA will require focus, innovation and collaboration between the public and private sectors around solutions for extending network coverage into rural areas and stimulating demand for mobile internet services among underserved populations.