Growing usage of mobile services, economic growth and the increased affordability of devices is expected to push Africa's mobile subscriber base to 975 million by 2020.
A report by the intelligence unit of the GSMA trade association projects that Africa will continue its position as the leader in mobile services growth, buoyed by the market and regulatory changes. Africa has been the world's leading growth market in the last five years in terms of both unique mobile subscribers and mobile connections. According to the report, the number of mobile connections in the region stood at 608 million in June 2014 and is forecast to rise to 975 million by 2020.
"The region is now seeing a rapid technology migration to higher speed networks, helped by the growing range of lower-cost devices and on going network deployments by the operators; 3G connections accounted for only 15 per cent of the total base at the end of 2013, a figure that will rise to more than half by 2020," the report noted.
The growth of 3G-enabled smartphones and tablets is expected to push data traffic up and by 2020, the region will be the second largest in 3G connections, behind the highly populated Asia-Pacific region.
The report, titled "'Mobile Economy 2014: Sub-Saharan Africa" was issued earlier this month at the Mobile 360-Africa event in Cape Town.
"Despite the progress to date, there remains a significant proportion of the population in SSA [sub-Saharan Africa] who do not have access to the internet; this lack of internet access, compared to other regions in the world, has the potential to hinder development opportunities and prevent the region from truly engaging in the information age," said the report.
The study indicated that operators in the region invested more than US$45 billion over the last six years to expand coverage and increase network capacity while capital expenditure over the next seven years is forecast to total around US$97 billion.
The investments will support operators' quest to meet rising demand for mobile data services, mobile health, and mobile money services among other services.
Innovation is also projected to be a key driver, especially in machine-to-machine applications. The report expects the region to witness a number of innovative new M2M services in areas as diverse as telematics, smart metering, mobile banking and finance, security solutions and smart cities. In June 2014, the total number of M2M connections in sub-Saharan Africa stood at seven million, but is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26 per cent per annum, reaching 28 million by 2020
The sub-Saharan Africa region includes 46 countries in total; the six largest markets are Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, which, according to the report, together account for over half of the region's unique mobile subscriber base.