The African ICT and telecom sector is a largely unexplored terrain with a huge potential to foster economic and social growth and development. For instance, did you know:
– Between 2003 and 2008, Africa become the fastest growing mobile market in the world with mobile penetration in the region ranging from 30% to 100%. Mobile telephony is immensely attractive in sub-Saharan Africa because of the poor state of telecom and transport infrastructure. The development of low-cost handsets has been key to the rapid growth of mobile usage in Africa, and these models are set to remain the most popular in the region.
– By the end of 2008, Africa had 246 million mobile subscriptions and mobile penetration has risen from just five per cent in 2003 to well over 30 per cent today. The high ratio of mobile cellular subscriptions to fixed telephone lines and the high mobile cellular growth rate suggest that Africa has taken the lead in the shift from fixed to mobile telephony, a trend that can be observed worldwide.
– Pre-paid subscriptions account for nearly 95 percent of total mobile subscriptions in the region.
– Most of the mobile operators are home grown. In 2005, the continent’s seven largest investors controlled 53% of the African mobile market
– Yet despite this growth rate, penetration is far below the rest of the world. According to the Wide World Worx report (2008), “Less than 5% of Africans use the Internet, and fixed and mobile broadband penetration levels are negligible.” The global average is 23% internet penetration. This is due mainly to cost, but also to coverage over a very large continent that lacks population density outside of major cities.
– To put it in real numbers. By the end of 2008 there were only 635,000 fixed-line broadband subscribers in all of Africa, representing 0.1% of the population, whereas the world average is 6%. Mobile broadband sees 7 million subscribers with a penetration representing 0.9% of the population, again 6% being the global average.
– In Africa, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt are the fastest growing markets. Indeed, African Internet usage has trebled to over 12 million since 2000, but South Africa remains the continent’s dominant Internet centre, with a quarter of Africa’s users.
– African states with less than 600,000 subscribers and includes Burundi, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Comoros (Union of the), Djibouti, Equitorial Guinea, Eritrea, Gambia (The), Lesotho, Liberia, Mayotte, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Somalia, Swaziland and Rwanda.
Read our article about the future of mobile telephony in Africa and the BRIC countries here: The Wild Wild West of Mobile Telephony in Emerging Markets. Or, take a look at our landmark study “A Conversation Behind Closed Doors”, which explores, among other things, American investment attitudes toward African ICT and telecom.
Sources: International Telecommunications Union/World Bank/ICT Indicators Database/Trade Sources
 The World Bank estimated in 2009 that for every 10 percentage points increase in mobile telephony subscription levels, economic growth increased by 0.8 percentage points in developing countries and by 0.6 percentage points in developed economies