Saturday, January 02, 2010

Africa - Soaring into connected era with rising mobile telephony and Internet

[business day] AS MOBILE and internet penetration soars through Africa, SA has lost its dominant position of accounting for 74% of Africa's mobile connections in 2000, dropping to 19% last year.

The figures highlight the acceleration of growth in African mobile and internet markets outside of SA in less than a decade, says the International Telecommunications Union .

Growth in Nigeria has been particularly strong, but Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania and Cote d'Ivoire have also accounted for the change in distribution of mobile connections.

In 2000, the continent was home to 11-million mobile cellular subscriptions and 3-million internet subscriptions.

By the end of last year , there were 32-million internet users and 246-million mobile cellular subscriptions. Between 2000 and last year, cellphone penetration increased from less than two in 100 inhabitants to 33 in 100 inhabitants, the union's data show .

New applications -- such as mobile banking and e-governance services -- are also taking off in SA, with other countries hot on its heels.

In a report released last week, Information Society Statistical Profiles 2009: Africa , the union predicts that growth in the mobile sector is likely to come from lower-income segments of the population, including rural and remote populations. It warned that efforts to address the needs of this segment might prove challenging.

The report attributed the pending challenges to the cost of infrastructure provision, saying it would be high while the targeted customers were "highly sensitive to pricing".

The union said regulation to enhance competition and develop mobile broadband, roaming agreements and taxation was needed, and that access to a cellphone would be essential for employment.

In SA, agricultural contract workers are often required to have a cellphone in order to receive text messages from firms indicating when they are needed. The perception that using a cellphone helped people to find a job was widespread in several African countries, said the report.

Mobile operators in Africa had had to develop different services in order to meet the unique circumstances of the region, the union said.

It said 95% of mobile subscriptions in the region were prepaid last year .

In order to make the service more convenient for low-income users, low- denomination airtime recharges and per-second billing were used. In Nigeria, recharges are available from as little as 40 US cents.

Text messaging is another area where innovative solutions are found. Some mobile operators allow users to send free SMSs from their websites.

In Kenya, mobile operator Safaricom offers the Flashcom 130 service, which provides a "flash call" -- letting the phone ring just long enough so that recipients know they should call back. Operators also provide services that allow users to transfer airtime to other users via a text message.

The most successful financial- services application to date has been the M-Pesa system, which allows subscribers to use their phone as a virtual bank by depositing and withdrawing funds through the value stored on their cellphone.

By May this year, M-Pesa had 6,5- million subscribers and was handling 10m in transactions daily.

Cellphones are also used for local applications, known as m-commerce. Examples include pricing information for local farmers and using cellphones to pay for goods and services.
Africa: Continent Soars Into the Get-Connected Era

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