Phone revolution makes Africa upwardly mobile

Posted by KatrinVerclas on Mar 15, 2006

Ken Banks's blog, photo of girl with mobile phoneGreat article in the UK Times about the mobile market in Africa and the enormous growth there. 

"This remarkable growth — the African market is expanding nearly twice as fast as Asia’s — has confounded analysts and even service operators. As recently as 2003, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) forecast that there would be only 67 million users by the end of 2005.

“Many of us underestimated the strength of the informal sector in Africa,” said Michael Joseph, chief executive officer of Safaricom, Kenya’s biggest operator, with four million customers. “And the huge need and desire for people to communicate.”

Before mobile phones, vast swaths of Africa were communication voids. There are just three landlines per hundred Africans and most are expensive and unreliable. By contrast, Europe has 40 fixed phones per 100 people.

Never having had access to a fixed line, Mr Gakungi made the leap from letter-writing to wireless communications. He buys about 2,000 shillings (£16) of airtime a month but considers it money well spent. “You have to spend to earn,” he said.

South Africa, with its booming economy, is the continent’s biggest mobile phone market, with nearly 25 million subscribers, then come Nigeria, Egypt and Morocco. But it is in less-developed countries that the statistics are most startling. The Democratic Republic of Congo, population 60 million, has 10,000 fixed telephones but more than a million mobile phone subscribers. In Chad, the fifth-least developed country, mobile phone usage jumped from 10,000 to 200,000 in three years.

A lack of electricity has not proved a hindrance: roadside vendors charge mobile phones with car batteries. As the signal coverage expands, cheaper phones and calls fuel growth."


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