Africa continues to see strong growth in mobile broadband use and data traffic, the result of several factors which are providing a beneficial environment for investment and customer take-up of services. Overall forecasts suggest that mobile internet traffic across the region will increase 20-fold by the end of the decade.

This strong growth is supported by increased internationally connectivity as consortia of operators continue to develop submarine and terrestrial cables to provide the necessary backbone infrastructure on which data and networks depend. Indeed, growth in international internet capacity to Africa has grown faster during the last few than years than in any other region globally. Capacity grew by about 40% in the year to mid-2015. Although connectivity in northern countries dominated growth for a number of years, the focus more recently has been on Sub-Saharan regions.

Major projects include cables connecting southern Africa to Brazil and onto the US, while in August 2015 the West Africa Cable System was upgraded, delivering 5.12Tb/s capacity for connected countries along the route from South Africa to the UK.

Smartphones are rapidly becoming the dominant device of choice for new purchases, in line with the availability of LTE networks being built out by network operators. Many of these operators have an extensive international presence, encompassing a significant number of markets which facilitates the development and spread of technical expertise, m-commerce and roaming. Almost half of all smartphones shipped to Africa in 2015 retail for less than $100, while domestically manufactured units are expected to sell for considerably less into 2016. This will help spread the use of smartphones to a larger consumer base.

By 2020, about three-quarters of all mobile connections will be on 3G or LTE, and thereafter the impetus will favour LTE as operators are able to make use of spectrum released from the switch to digital TV. This process, which was expected to be have been completed by June 2015, was delayed in many markets which were unprepared, but during 2016 this digital dividend spectrum will be made available for network operators to expand the reach of LTE networks beyond the major cities. In response, operators are transitioning their networks to accommodate the shift from a market dominated by mobile voice into one in which data services and customer retention are paramount.

Mobile data revenue in Africa is expected to double by 2019, from about $11 billion 2014 to $22 billion, though mobile voice revenue also retains growth potential, with revenue expected to increase from about $50 billion in 2014 to $55 billion in 2019. Growth in voice revenue and traffic is supported by poor fixed-line networks and the focus among operators, regulators and governments alike on investing in mobile infrastructure to achieve national goals for broadband connectivity and reach.

For more information see – Africa - Mobile Broadband - Statistics and Analyses