The state of South Africa’s mobile market vs the rest of Africa

Mobile research group GSMA Intelligence has released its Mobile Economy report for 2017, showing the state of mobile in Africa.

According to GSMA-I, South Africa is the second biggest mobile market in Africa after Nigeria – but has a far higher mobile penetration rate than the west-African nation.

As of 2016, South Africa has 37.5 million unique mobile subscribers, a 68% penetration rate, compared to Nigeria’s 86 million mobile subscribers, representing 45% of the population.

Among South Africa’s mobile operators, total subscribers add up to well over 80 million connections – however, this is explained by the fact that many people have more than one SIM card across a couple or more networks.

Only four other countries have managed to get over 20 million subscribers (Ethiopia, Kenya, the DRC and Tanzania), GSMA’s data showed.

More than half a billion people across Sub-Saharan Africa will be subscribed to a mobile service by the end of a decade, according the GSMA’s study.

It projects that the number of unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa will grow from 420 million (43% of the population) at the end of 2016 to 535 million (50% of the population) in 2020, making it the fastest growing region in the world over this period.

Mobile technologies and services generated $110 billion of economic value in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016, equivalent to 7.7% of regional GDP – a figure expected to grow to $142 billion (8.6% of GDP) by 2020.

The mobile ecosystem also directly and indirectly supported approximately 3.5 million jobs in the region last year, and made a $13 billion contribution to the public sector in the form of taxation.

Local mobile operators have invested $37 billion 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% by 2020.

These new networks – alongside rising smartphone adoption – are driving demand for digital content and services.

In South Africa, for example, 3G is almost universal, while 4G networks now reach three quarters of the population.

“Consequently, the country has a mobile broadband penetration rate of more than 70%,” the group said.

Further, up to 90% of smartphone users South Africa use at least one IP messaging service – such as WhatsApp, BBM or Facebook Messenger – regularly, the group said.

Regionally, the SADC region current has about 4% 4G penetration, and this is expected to increase to 15% by 2020.

Read: SA mobile subscribers in 2017: Vodacom vs MTN vs Cell C vs Telkom

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The state of South Africa’s mobile market vs the rest of Africa