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Mobile Africa

More than 1 billion people live in the Sub-Saharan Africa, 40% of population under the age of 16, and there are only 250 million smartphones. The capacity for growth is huge — both MENA, Latin America, and the rest of the developing world have higher mobile penetration than Africa.

Source: GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy, 2018Source: GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy, 2018

It was the mobile operators (MNO), the telecoms, that fuelled network coverage with 2G first, and then 3G and 4G. It was MNOs that invested in hardware infrastructure, agent network, built default payment services, created jobs, set up the basis for the online economies, pushed for innovation and rocketed Africa’s development.

If you think about it, the connected world was created in no small part by those heroes that we take for granted. We take for granted the enormous investment they had to make when setting up first towers, and then they continue to upgrade themselves over and over and over again, competing with one another, pushing new technologies, widening data passage, working on redesigning their business models to make voice and data more affordable.

Most influential mobile operators that shaped the African markets today are the UK’s Vodaphone, India’s Bharti Airtel, France’s Orange, South Africa’s MTN, and the international father of most modern telecoms — Millicom (Tigo brand).

Source: GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa Mobile Economy, 2018

MNOs are not alone in the fight for the future. There are also Chinese Itel feature phones and Tecno and Infinix smartphones by Transsion, and little bit Samsung and Huawei. These are the companies that manufacture affordable devices for Africans in Africa for most part.

Since the data packages are quite expensive, and broadband is yet to become mostly 3G, both local and international mobile app developers have to be creative and offer small size apps, if they want to work on this market. Nevertheless, we have to be thankful for those smartphones under 150 USD that make it possible to get people online.

Hail to mobile operators, hail to affordable Chinese phones: we have got a mobile-first continent full of young and eager people that skipped the industrial age right to smartphone age!


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Anna Kuzmina

Anna Kuzmina



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21 Jan 2019



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