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635m people in Nigeria, South Africa, SSA yet to get mobile services


Nigerian making a call, PHOTO: AFP

Nigerian making a call, PHOTO: AFP

• Internet to account for $300b of continent’s yearly GDP by 2025.

Of a total population of 1.2 billion currently in Africa, only 565 million, about 47 per cent are using mobile services, while the remaining 635 million people are missing in the continent’s connectivity radar.

While it has been discovered that deeper Internet penetration on the continent can add about $300 billion to the GDP in nine years time, Africa still lags behind in Internet adoption with only 303 million people, about 25 per cent of the region’s population) accessing the it via mobile.

According to the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA), in a new report titled: Connected Society: Consumer barriers to mobile Internet adoption in Africa, a copy obtained by The Guardian, the association, which represents the interest of mobile operators worldwide, uniting nearly 800 operators with more than 250 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem, including handset and device makers, software companies, equipment providers and Internet companies, said Internet adoption rates are noticeably weaker in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where mobile penetration is just 43 per cent and mobile Internet penetration just 23 per cent.

According to the report, which surveyed data from 13 countries in Africa, including Algeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Tanzania, disclosed that an important part of the mobile Internet connectivity issue in Africa is low network coverage, which averages just 50 per cent of the population for 3G (compared to a global average of 78 per cent).

It stressed that the challenging terrain and low population densities work against commercially viable expansion into rural areas. But demand-side issues also need to be addressed.

This research examined why 457 million people in the region could potentially access the Internet via mobile, as they are covered by 3G networks, but are holding back from doing so.

The report identified three key barriers to Internet adoption in the region. These include: lack of awareness and locally relevant content; lack of digital skills and affordability.

According to it, the lack of awareness was identified as the biggest barrier (58 per cent of respondents) in North Africa, particularly in Egypt. It was the second biggest barrier (36 per cent of respondents) in SSA, and a particularly important issue in Cameroon, DRC, Nigeria and South Africa.

Lack of digital skills was however, identified as the biggest barrier by respondents in SSA (38 per cent of them), particularly in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Sierra Leone. It also accounted for the second most important barrier in North Africa (39 per cent of respondents).

In terms of affordability, the report said despite the fact that Africa has the lowest income per capita of any region; affordability was only identified as the most important barrier in one out of 13 markets in the survey. Overall it was cited as a barrier by 36 per cent of respondents in North Africa and 29 per cent in SSA.

Through the survey, which involved face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 people in each country, GSMA noted that providing access to the Internet can have a positive socio-economic impact. It stressed that the Internet could account for up to $300 billion of Africa’s yearly GDP by 2025.

However, to reach this goal, it pointed out that effective collaboration
between governments, mobile operators and the development community to overcome these barriers to digital inclusion is required.

GSMA stressed that governments can play a role by developing a local content ecosystem, incorporating ICT skills into the education curriculum for all age groups, and ensuring that taxation on mobile services does not impact their affordability.

According to it, mobile operators and other ecosystem players should support the creation of an entrepreneurship ecosystem, work to make mobile services more affordable, and use their networks to increase awareness of the benefits of the internet and promote gender equality in access and usage.

GSMA, which pointed out that a significant gender gap exists in Internet usage: women have far lower access to the Internet than men across the continent, said that network coverage was not perceived as an issue in most countries, reflecting the increasing availability of mobile networks. However, mobile broadband (3G or 4G) coverage remains low in most parts of Africa.

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