July 24, 2017

Mobile Technologies and Services to Contribute to Economic and Social Development Across Sub-Saharan Africa

"Sub-Saharan Africa remains the fastest growing mobile market," according to GSMA's The Mobile Economy Sub-Saharan Africa 2017 report. "The region will have more than half a billion unique mobile subscribers by 2020, by which time around half the population will subscribe to a mobile service. The total number of SIM connections in the region reached 731 million at the end of 2016, and will rise to nearly 1 billion by 2020."

The report points out that "the number of mobile broadband connections will reach half a billion by 2020, more than double the number at the end of 2016, and will account for nearly two thirds of total connections in the region." Furthermore, "Key factors supporting the growth of smartphone adoption in the region include the increasing affordability of new devices and a growing market for second-hand devices. This trend, along with the uptake of mobile broadband services, is driving demand for digital content and, consequently, an increase in mobile data traffic. Traffic is forecast to grow twelvefold across Africa as a whole over the next five years."

The report importantly notes the economic value mobile technologies and services in Sub-Saharan Africa:
In 2016, mobile technologies and services generated $110 billion of economic value in Sub-Saharan Africa, equivalent to 7.7% of GDP. Mobile's contribution to GDP is expected to rise to $142 billion, equivalent to 8.6% of GDP, by 2020 as countries benefit from improvements in productivity and efficiency brought about by increased take-up of mobile services. The mobile ecosystem also supported approximately 3.5 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2016. In addition to the mobile sector’s impact on the economy and labor market, it makes a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with $13 billion raised in 2016 in the form of taxation.
Image: GSMA
Considering mobile is a key platform for innovation in Sub-Saharan Africa, the report encouragingly says, "Opportunities in mobile-based innovation are attracting talent and investment to the tech startup ecosystem in Sub-Saharan Africa. Some 77 tech start-ups across the region raised just over $366.8 million in funding in 2016, growth of 33% compared to the previous year." Moreover, "Mobile operators also play a central role in the tech start-up ecosystem through collaborative ventures with innovators and tech hubs, providing direct investments and access to key network APIs and distribution channels."

I agree that "mobile is a vital tool in delivering digital and financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa." As such, GSMA claims "mobile connectivity will play a central role in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - a 17-point plan to end poverty, combat climate change and fight injustice and inequality by 2030."

In addition, "The 700 million mobile connections in the region are enabling various services that directly impact the SDGs. Investors and social enterprises are leveraging the large area coverage of mobile networks and key mobile services, such as messaging, mobile money and M2M, to deliver scalable and commercially viable services that address a wide range of social challenges in the region."

Lastly, on the topic of regulation and competition in a digital age, the report notes:
Digitization is driving rapid technological progress and growth, generating significant benefits for consumers in both developed and developing regions of the world. However, rapid innovation, in terms of technology and business models, together with the growing importance of economies of scale and scope, is blurring the boundaries between once-distinct markets and regulatory regimes. Policymakers all over the world, including many in Africa, are now recognizing these challenges and working to implement reforms that will protect competition and consumers without impeding social and economic progress.
Infographic: GSMA
Sub-Saharan Africa is full of opportunities to develop localized mobile technologies and services. Do you have plans to support the region's tech startup ecosystem?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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