While more than two thirds of the population are connected to the internet in North America and Europe, access levels remain below a third in Africa, India and much of the sub-continent, a new study shows.
The study by Huawei on mobile and internet penetration shows that there is still a wide usage gap in Africa, with penetration rate estimated at 24 percent in the continent.
Mobile internet users in Sub-Saharan Africa were about 239 million in 2018 with a projection of 483 million users by 2025. Unique mobile subscribers who do not necessarily use the internet were at 456 million in 2018 and are expected to hit 623 million by 2025. Seven percent of these connections operated on 4G by 2018, up from four percent in 2017 and 23 percent are expected on the network by 2025. Only 2.7 percent of the total connection run on 5G.
Most of the growing base of mobile internet users, mostly from the fastest growing markets, are mobile only with no access to PC. This is bound to have a positive effect on the app and digital content economy even to non-English speaking markets. Streaming is one of the most sought after services currently with Netflix recently launching a stripped back, mobile only tariff in India.
This growth has been powered by rising smartphone penetration within the region. Smartphone penetration worldwide is at 65 percent, reflecting falling prices of devices and cellular data. The upward trend should continue as Android manufacturers permeate the legacy 2G and 3G base. By 2025, adoption should reach 80 percent. Most smartphones are expected to run on LTE, with the 1.5 billion 5G smartphones clustered in early adopter countries; China and the US being the biggest.
High populations magnify this effect; India alone accounts for 860 million of the unconnected globally followed by Pakistan and Bangladesh. Network coverage remains a challenge but one that continues to mitigate. Currently, 750 million people live outside of 4G or 3G coverage down from 1.8 billion five years ago. Organic expansion and network sharing have extended mobile coverage to rural areas.
The bigger obstacle that remains both in developed and developing countries is relevance and understanding of how to use mobile internet. Digital literacy has created a usage gap particularly with the older generation.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, 62 percent of the 800 million people that do not use mobile internet are within mobile Broadband Network coverage. South Africa leads with 90 percent 4G network coverage of its population with the least 4G coverage in Tanzania at 28 percent of the population. Kenya has 65 percent of the population within 4G coverage.
By the end of 2019, Mobile broadband connections (3G and above), for the first time, accounted for the majority of total mobile connections. This is an important inflection point for the region as it reflects a growing shift in the way consumers use digital platforms. Data centered services, particularly music and video streaming services, will drive a four-fold increase in data consumption by 2024.
5G is still at the exploratory stage and may not benefit consumers much, as LTE already provides faster and efficient speeds for single users. The network will come in handy in bigger sectors such as mining, utility and transport in the coming years.
Unique mobile penetration rates vary considerably across the region. South Africa is one of the eight markets with above a 60 percent penetration rate while countries like Ethiopia and DRC still have penetration rates below 40 percent. These large underpenetrated markets are bound to drive subscriber growths in the coming years. Together with Nigeria, they are likely to account for more than a third of new subscribers by 2025.
The infrastructure and availability of locally relevant content and services are the greatest enablers of Mobile internet adoption. They have propelled significant investments in 3G and 4G network expansion. Video overcomes the literacy challenges which projects growth in the use of video and gaming.
“Taking into account the market trends and needs, Huawei is committed to supporting connectivity to the whole of Africa,” says the company.