Mobile data and broadband technologies are increasingly being used as a substitute for poor or non-existent fixed-line infrastructure in Africa. In vast parts of the continent, the mobile network operators are the only providers of any kind of telecommunication service apart from satellite services. As subscriber growth peaks, many of them have established themselves as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and are playing an increasing role in the broadband sector, competing directly with fixed broadband services such as DSL – a welcome new revenue stream in an environment of shrinking average revenue per user (ARPU) in the voice market.
Third generation (3G) mobile technologies, coupled with improvements in international fibre and national backbone network infrastructure are now capable of delivering broadband Internet access to a wider part of the continent’s close to one billion population. However, the price of end user devices will be a key factor. The prepaid mass market will only adopt advanced services on a broad scale once prices for 3G handsets and modems as well as personal computers have reached affordable levels.
Like elsewhere in the world, Short Message Service (SMS) still accounts for the bulk of Africa’s mobile data traffic and revenue, but in recent years there has also been an increasing interest in Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) and other forms of mobile messaging and social media, downloads of ring tones, logos, music and games, as well as SMS-based information and lifestyle services. Premium rate and bulk SMS services are generating millions in revenues. Third parties are continuously developing new value-added services and applications.
Mobile TV services have been launched in at least ten African countries. A boost for these services is expected from the FIFA World Cup to be hosted in South Africa in 2010.
M-payments and mobile banking is another key growth area that is revolutionising Africa’s financial sector, where only a small percentage of the population has access to traditional banking system. In the continent’s most advanced markets, m-commerce, mobile content, applications and media have reached a level of development that is beginning to foster an associated advertising and marketing industry.
Peter Lange, Senior Analyst Africa, BuddeComm
Exhibit- Graph of WCDMA 3G subscriber growth in selected African countries – 2009
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