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Africa mobile data use rising, broadband speed lags – report

Mobile data use in Africa is growing fast

Mobile data connections and services continue to grow strongly in Africa, but the continent lags behind most of the world in terms of high-speed broadband connectivity, according to a report by analyst firm Ovum. However, mobile broadband connections in Africa are set to rise from 96 million in 2013 to 950 million to cover 77.3% of all mobile subscriptions in the continent by the end of 2019.

The number of mobile subscriptions is growing faster in Africa than in any other major region, with 9.8% year-on-year growth at the end of 2013, higher compared to the global growth rate of 6.3%. Ovum said it expects mobile subscriptions in the continent to reach one billion in 2016, totalling 1.23 billion in five years’ time.

“But with the rate of growth in mobile subscriptions slowing – the number of mobile subscriptions in Africa will increase by only about 5% year-on-year in 2019 – the more significant development within Africa’s mobile market is the growth in mobile data connections and services,” said Matthew Reed, Practice Leader for the Middle East and Africa at Ovum.

While growth in mobile use has been remarkably strong in recent years, fixed broadband penetration in Africa remains very low at 5.2%. “Despite the growth in mobile data connectivity on the continent, Africa is ranked second-to-last among world regions in terms of its broadband development,” Reed said.

According to Ovum’s Broadband Development Index, which tracks the take-up of high-speed fixed and mobile broadband services in 191 countries, Africa scored 226 out of 1,000 in 2014. This is just ahead of Central and Southern Asia (219 of 1,000), but far behind leading regions North America (633) and Western Europe (433).

Within sub-Saharan Africa and only taking into account countries with more than three million people, the best performers of the index were South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Nigeria, with scores of 262, 244, 241, 227 and 227 (227 for both Uganda and Nigeria) respectively. On global scale, South Africa ranks 103rd of the 191 countries in total.

“Ovum’s data shows that despite the remarkable advances made by Africa’s telecoms sector, the continent remains behind most of the rest of the world in terms of its adoption of fast broadband services. Bridging that digital divide should be a high priority for African governments, regulators and the industry, because of the economic, social and commercial benefits that it could bring,” said Reed.

Meanwhile, broadband and network solutions provider Sandvine has revealed the results of its research into African internet usage trends. The data, collected as part of the company’s Global Internet Phenomena Program, showed significant differences in mobile broadband use in Africa compared to Europe and North America.

According to the report, WhatsApp is the leading third party messaging application in Africa, accounting for 7% of total traffic. In comparison, the app apparently only accounts for less than 2% of all such traffic in Europe and North America. Streaming video via mobile broadband only accounts for just over 6% of downstream traffic, which is much lower than in Europe and North America where it comes to over 30%. Fixed network video streaming in Africa was much higher at 26%, however this is still much lower than in most other markets. YouTube was shown to be the leading video streaming service used in Africa, accounting for 12.3% of all fixed downstream traffic.

“Throughout Africa, communications service providers are rapidly building out their networks to enhance services and extend coverage into new and previously unconnected locations,” Tom Donnelly, Sandvine COO, Sales and Global Services, said. “Sandvine’s success in Africa has made it possible to reveal the latest regional internet usage data which our customers can use to help improve subscribers’ quality of experience and offer innovative new service tiers.”


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