Broadband needs 'mobile miracle'

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The number of active mobile subscriptions in Africa has passed the 500 million mark and mobile broadband subscriptions will reach 265 million by 2015, says Informa Telecoms and Media.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) says the continent must repeat the “mobile miracle” for broadband deployment if the online world is to become a ubiquitous resource for all Africans.

Informa says mobile subscriptions reached 506 million in 3Q10, at which point the continent accounted for 10% of the world's mobile subscriptions and was one of the world's fastest-growing regions as a result of demand for new services, such as mobile Internet access, that increase the need for telecoms connectivity.

“Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is also its largest mobile market, accounting for 16% of the continent's mobile subscriptions. Egypt and SA are the second- and third-largest mobile markets on the continent.”

The research company also says that over the next five years, the strongest growth rates in mobile subscriptions are expected to be recorded mainly in East and Central African markets. Ethiopia, DR Congo, Eritrea and Madagascar are forecast to see mobile subscription numbers increase by more than 100% by 2015.

"Although the rate of growth in mobile subscriptions in Africa will slow as markets mature, the continent continues to offer great opportunities for investors in the voice segment in under-penetrated markets, and also in the non-voice segments with mobile broadband and mobile-money services taking off," says Thecla Mbongue, Johannesburg-based senior analyst at Informa.

M-broadband explosion

Mbongue adds that by 2015, there will be 265 million mobile broadband subscriptions in Africa. “A huge increase from the current figure of about 12 million, and accounting for 31.5% of the total of 842 million mobile subscriptions that the continent will have in five years' time.”

Informa also says there will be almost 360 million users of mobile-money services on the continent by 2014.

“The landing of a series of new submarine cables on both the East and West coasts of Africa over the past 18 months has given the continent a good level of international connectivity for the first time, and has greatly expanded the opportunities for data services,” says the company.

“However, terrestrial backhaul threatens to become the next bottle-neck, and must be extended if the benefits of the new connectivity are to be made widely available, and in particular reach rural communities and countries in the interior of the continent.”

It adds that the rate of household broadband penetration in Africa was just 2.5% in 1Q10, so “African broadband has a long way to go if it is to emulate the mobile revolution that has already swept through much of the continent”.

Broadband priority

At its Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) in Dakar last week, the ITU urged delegates to embrace regulation that will help the world repeat the “mobile miracle” for broadband deployment.

Speaking at the opening of the GSR, ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Tour'e urged the world's ICT regulators to “do for the Internet and broadband what we have now so successfully achieved with mobile”.

He added that two things need to change if the online world is to become a ubiquitous resource for all Africans. “Firstly, governments need to raise broadband to the top of the development agenda. Secondly, we need to ensure Internet access - and especially broadband access - becomes very much more affordable.”

ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau director Sami Al Basheer emphasised that industry, government and regulators all have major interests in common in this regard.

“We are all striving towards the same goal: a growing and vibrant ICT sector. If, by working together, we manage to extend the benefits of ICT to as many people as possible across the world, we stand to win. We have seen that the fastest growing ICT markets are the emerging markets, in particular in mobile. We now need to work together to extend this progress to broadband network expansion, to create a platform for innovative new services such as m-banking, m-government, m-health and other services.”

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