Report: The Mobile Economy: Sub-Saharan Africa 2018

  • Date Posted: September 18, 2018
  • Authors: Marketlinks Team
  • Document Types: Evidence or Research
  • Donor Type: Non-US Government Agency


Woman in Marketplace using mobile device. Photo: Marta Rossinelli.
Woman in Marketplace using mobile device. Photo: Marta Rossinelli.

This 2018 report was prepared by The GSMA

For many consumers across Sub-Saharan Africa, the mobile phone is not just a communication device but also the primary channel to get online as well as a vital tool to access various life-enhancing services. Mobile adoption in the region has grown rapidly in recent years: overall subscriber penetration reached 44 percent in 2017, up from just 25 percent at the start of this decade. Access to mobile connectivity is vital to empowering consumers and driving economic growth. The technology enhances access to many essential services, including education, health, and utilities, while also enabling business models that support the efficient and sustainable delivery of key services through mobile-based platforms such as mobile money and cellular IoT.

Slowing subscriber growth, despite low penetration levels

Subscriber growth in Sub-Saharan Africa has slowed in recent years as the industry confronts the challenges of affordability and a youthful population. Growth rates in the region have fallen well below the double-digit annual rates seen in the first half of the decade, and the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the next five years is around half the level recorded over the preceding five years. Future growth opportunities will increasingly be concentrated in rural and low-ARPU markets, as well as younger demographic groups. World Bank data indicates that around 40 percent of the population in the region are under the age of 16, a demographic segment that has significantly lower levels of mobile ownership than the population as a whole. Unique mobile subscriber penetration in Sub-Saharan Africa stood at 44 percent at the end of 2017, still well below the global average of 66 percent. The subscriber base in the region totaled 444 million, equivalent to around 9 percent of subscribers globally. The regional subscriber base will grow at a CAGR of 4.8 percent for the period 2017–2022, more than double the global growth rate over the same period. The penetration rate is forecast to reach the 50 percent level by the end of 2023, and 52 percent by 2025.

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