Africa is now the second-most-connected region in the world in terms of mobile subscriptions after Asia-Pacific, according to new research by Informa Telecoms & Media.

The firm, which provides market intelligence for the global telecom and entertainment industries, reports that Africa moved up from its fourth position at the end of 2010 to overtake Western Europe and the Americas in the second and third quarters of this year, respectively. With more than 616 million mobile subscriptions at the end of September, Africa is forecast to reach the 1 billion mark by 2016.

"The combination in Africa of a still relatively immature telecoms market with factors including population growth, strong competition among providers and the increasing affordability of mobile devices, explains Africa's move up the regional mobile-market rankings as well as its strong growth forecast," says head of mobile research for the Middle East and Africa at Informa Telecoms & Media, Matthew Reed. "Africa's mobile market is heading towards a major landmark: The number of mobile subscriptions on the continent will cross the 1 billion mark in 2016 according to our latest forecast."

In the past 10 years, countries in sub-Saharan Africa have experienced an increase in mobile telecom usage due to greater competition fostered by market liberalization and the establishment of regulatory bodies to monitor telco activities. This led to a sharp drop in the cost of telecom services.

Users have taken advantage of mobile communications particularly in rural areas where landline facilities are not accessible. Applications such as mobile banking, as well as the influx of affordable phones from China, have fueled mobile growth in the region. Africa-based mobile operators continue to introduce lower-cost solutions to stimulate market growth.

Next week for example, Nigeria-based Globacom, with operations in The Gambia, Senegal, Nigeria, Benin and Cote d'Ivoire, will officially launch its operation in Ghana three years after it received a licence to offer services. It is venturing into the second-largest telecom market in West Africa with the support of its Glo Mobile unit, GLO 1, the high-capacity submarine cable network commissioned in Ghana in 2009.