How internet and mobile connectivity is helping to change Africa

The internet is the most important enabler of social development and economic growth of our time. Throughout the world, there are roughly 3.2 billion people online – 2.4 billion of them through mobile – directly benefiting from and contributing to the digital economy. However, this leaves 4 billion people offline, unable to participate and unaware of the opportunities.

The unconnected population is predominantly located in developing world markets, typically on low incomes and lacking basic and digital literacy skills.  Women are disproportionately affected by these challenges. Mobile represents the best opportunity for the underserved to join the digital economy.

To this end, it is impossible to overstate just how important the current growth being seen in smartphone connections across the African continent truly is. Lower smartphone prices are driving a digital revolution in Africa, allowing mobile phone users to access the internet at unprecedented levels. Operators and developers are also leveraging the power of mobile networks to transform services in health, agriculture, education, energy and water management.

The figures are staggeringly positive, with 226 million smartphone users across Africa in 2015 – almost twice as many than the figure from just two years previously in 2013 – and with data traffic showing growth of more than 50%, there is hope that African countries will be able to reap the benefits, and that this will help to tackle social and economic challenges effectively.

Mobile technology continues to play a central role in addressing a range of social challenges, including unregistered populations, the digital divide and financial inclusion, with mobile operators across the African continent united in support to help achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals, leveraging the power of mobile networks to accelerate growth in a way that no other technology can. The message is clear: the more people with mobiles, the better,

Not only that, but growth of the mobile industry is also good news for both investors and governments, as a report from the GSMA states. The use of mobile services and technologies directly contributed to $17 billion in government taxes in 2015. In general, mobile services generated 6.7% of the continent’s GDP, totalling around $150 billion in economic value.

The mobile industry also directly and indirectly supported more than 3.8 million jobs. The 1.3 million direct jobs supported an additional 2.43 million indirect employment opportunities in the form of wages and public funding contributions.

All of this is very positive, even though challenges do remain: this growth in data use is occurring despite problems with affordability and costs, not to mention lack of digital literacy in some parts of the continent. Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa are some of the more technologically advanced nations pushing the high usage of data. New entrants effectively utilizing the 3G technology include countries like Algeria, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Still, the African market lags behind other developing nations in smartphone adoption and mobile broadband use.

Affordability is one barrier that will hopefully prove easiest to topple: selling prices dropped from an average of $230 to $160 in 2015. What is clear, is that reducing the digital divide between urban and rural areas will boost economic activity, help to alleviate poverty and expand financial inclusion.

Through our work with NEC, GMS continue to provide our solutions in markets across Africa, including some of the fastest growing markets in Algeria and the DRC.