Africa – mobile voice market and major network operators


Mobile services capitalising on low fixed-line connectivity

Accurate figures for mobile penetration in Africa are complicated by the popular use of multiple SIM cards in some markets. This has led to penetration rates of 150% or higher in a few countries, though given the diversity of the region penetration rates vary considerably, with Eritrea and South Sudan sporting very low rates. In general terms, higher penetration can be seen in several southern countries, including Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia, as also in the north from Morocco to Egypt and in a number of West African states including Gambia, Ghana and Gabon. A large band of sub-Saharan and central African countries, often characterised by thinly populated areas or socio-political unrest, have relatively low penetration. Average penetration for the continent reached about 75% by mid-2014.

To some degree the sharp variable in penetration rates are evening out as countries at the lower end of the spectrum, such as Ethiopia, are typically recording far faster growth rates than those at the upper end.

Growth in the use of mobile voice services is largely stimulated by network coverage and quality of service. The latter is increasingly recognised as important by regulators who are prepared to fine operators for poor QoS, or temporarily suspend their ability to attract new subscribers until remedies are made. Another stimulus is poor fixed-line infrastructure which had rendered mobile connectivity as the only viable telecom service in many areas. This applies both to voice as well as internet services, though the latter are still largely geared to the 2G environment.
As a result of fixed-line limitations, mobile services still represent more than 90% of all telephone lines in service. The popularity of cheaper prepaid services, which in some markets account for up to 98% of all mobile subscribers, as well as a steady fall in tariffs has meant that an increasing proportion of the population can both access and afford a mobile phone.

Some market consolidation continues to occur in the region, with a small number of players, notably Bharti Airtel, MTN, Orange and Tigo, now having a significant multinational presence. In early 2014 Etisalat sold to Maroc Telecom its Moov-branded mobile subsidiaries in Benin, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Niger and Togo. The deal enabled Maroc Telecom to consolidate control of the West Africa operations and make use of its experience in this region. Newly introduced converged licensing regimes have also increased competitive pressure among operators, and have enabled them to branch into new service segments.
Mobile broadband and data services are covered in a separate report: Africa – Mobile Broadband Market.

Data in this report is the latest available at the time of preparation and may not be for the current year


Ken Research
Ankur Gupta, Head Marketing & Communications


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