SA’s smartphone penetration surpasses 90%
The influx of mid- to low-cost smartphone brands in the South African market has boosted access to these devices, with the country’s smartphone penetration jumping to over 90% in 2019.
According to the 2020 State of the ICT Sector report, put together by the Independent Communications Authority of SA (ICASA), SA’s smartphone penetration reached 91.2% in 2019, up from 81.7% in 2018.
This figure represents a 9.5% increase during the period under review. The country has seen a sharp increase in smartphone penetration, rising from 43.5% in 2016 to 91.2% last year. In 2017 and 2018, smartphone penetration had reached 71.4% and 81.7%, respectively.
ICASA recorded 53.4 million smartphone subscriptions as at 30 September 2019, a few million shy of the country’s total population size. South Africa’s estimated population stood at 58.78 million, according to the 2019 mid-year population figure released by Statistics SA.
Last year’s state of ICT report showed smartphone subscriptions at 46.9 million.
Now in its fifth year, the ICASA report examines the performance and developments in the ICT sector, focusing on three areas regulated by the authority, namely telecoms, broadcasting and postal services.
According to ICASA, the findings are based on data collected over a 12-month period ending 30 September 2019, compiled from secondary sources such as Statistics SA, OOKLA as well as through a detailed questionnaire sent to relevant stakeholders.
LTE device subscribers are also growing fast in all provinces, according to the telecom regulator’s report.
The CASA report breaks down the subscription categories, ranging from prepaid and postpaid mobile cellular phone voice, prepaid and postpaid mobile cellular phone voice for urban and rural areas, mobile cellular phone data, fixed-line voice, fixed-line broadband and wireless broadband.
The report shows total mobile cellular phone voice subscriptions increased by 5.7% from 91 million in 2018 to 96 million in 2019. Of this total, 82 million (85%) was prepaid subscriptions and 14 million (15%) was postpaid subscriptions in 2019.
“Over a five-year period, the total mobile cellular phone voice subscriptions increased by 2.8%, prepaid mobile cellular subscriptions increased by 3.3%, and postpaid mobile cellular subscriptions decreased by 0.2%.”
In regards to prepaid and postpaid mobile cellular phone voice subscriptions for urban and rural areas, ICASA found total prepaid mobile phone subscriptions in urban areas was at 77.5 million in 2019, and postpaid subscriptions at 13.7 million.
In rural areas, prepaid mobile phone subscriptions were at 4.7 million and post-paid mobile phone subscriptions at just over 885 000, for the period under review.
According to ICASA, mobile cellular data subscriptions increased by 18.8% from 65 million in 2018 to 78 million in 2019. “Over a five-year period, mobile data subscriptions increased by 13.9%.”
On fixed-line voice subscriptions, the report says the total number decreased by 38% from 4.4 million in 2018 to 2.7 million in 2019.
“In 2019, analogue fixed-telephone lines decreased by 60.8%, ISDN voice-channel equivalents decreased by 2%, VOIP subscriptions increased by over 100%, fixed public payphones decreased by 1% and fixed wireless local loop subscriptions also significantly increased by over 100%.
“Over a five-year period, VOIP subscriptions and fixed public payphone increased by 42.6% and 8.8%.
The report indicates that the total of fixed-line broadband subscriptions decreased by 19.6% in 2019. This, it says, was mainly as a result of significant decrease in DSL Internet subscriptions, which went down by 42.8%. Fibre-to-the-home/building Internet subscriptions increased by 28.8% for the same period.
“For a period of five years, fixed broadband subscriptions increased significantly by 29.4%. Over the same period, fibre-to-the-home/building Internet subscriptions increased by 168.2%.”
Wireless broadband subscriptions increase by 25% from 185 327 in 2018 to 231 687 in 2019, according to the report. “For a period of five years, wireless-broadband subscriptions increased by 11.7%.”
In terms of the country’s mobile network coverage, the ICASA report shows the national population coverage for 3G increased from 99.5% in 2018 to 99.7% in 2019. Further, coverage for 4G/LTE increased from 85.7% in 2018 to 92.8% in the next year.
The report findings support statistics of 4G availability provided by some of the telcos.
In its interim results for the six months ended 30 September 2019, Vodacom, SA’s largest carrier, announced it had reached 92.4% 4G population coverage, compared to 82.5% in 2018. Last year, Pan-African mobile operator MTN said it had reached 95% 4G coverage across SA.
When looking at rural population network coverage at a provincial level, the Northern Cape had the lowest coverage of 2G, 3G and LTE, sitting at 99%, 97% and 72% in 2019, respectively.
The Gauteng province, on the other hand, had the highest population coverage of LTE at 99%, followed by Mpumalanga at 96%.
On urban population coverage, the ICASA report indicates all the country’s nine provinces had 100% 2G urban population coverage in 2019.
Similar to rural population coverage, the Northern Cape had the lowest 3G urban population coverage at 99% in 2019, with the rest of the other provinces at 100%.
In regards to LTE coverage within the urban population, the lowest province was the Northern Cape at 98% coverage in 2019.
* ICASA defines a smartphone as "a mobile phone with advanced features: it has WiFi connectivity, Web browsing capabilities, a high-resolution touch-screen display and the ability to use apps".
*All graphs sourced from ICASA's State of ICT Sector in SA 2020 report.