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Africa hits half-billion mobile subs

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The African mobile market has passed the half-billion market after 25 years of mobile telephony on the continent, according to research released at the AfricaCom conference in Cape Town this week. The mark was reached in September 2010, taking the continent to a penetration level of 48% – equivalent to almost half of all Africans using cellphones, although the real figure is lower due to multiple accounts, dual-SIM cards, and the like.

The African mobile market passed the half-billion mark at the end of September 2010, with 506-million mobile subscriptions. The numbers were released by Informa Telecoms & Media at the annual AfricaCom congress in Cape Town this week, and coincides with the 25th anniversary of mobile telephony on the continent.

At the end of the third quarter of this year, according to Informa, African mobile users accounted for 10% of the global mobile subscriber base. It had seen 18% growth in the 12 months up to the end of September. While several African countries have passed 100% penetration in terms of number of subscriptions, the continent as a whole is now at 48.35%.

However, as was shown when South Africa passed the 100% mark two years ago, it is clear that subscriptions do not equal people. World Wide Worx showed as long ago as 2005 that the subscriber base in South Africa overstated the user base by as much as 20%. That figure is closer to 25% in 2010, and similar numbers apply in many African markets.

The reason for the overstatement is extensive use of multiple SIM cards as users try to avoid the high additional cost of phoning a different network to the one to which they are subscribed. Other factors are use of SIM cards in least-cost routing systems, tracking devices and machine-to-machine communications.

Informa further reports that penetration in some African countries is still as low as 5%, and in most rural markets it remains below 10%.

The strongest growth in the next five years is expected in East and Central African markets, with Ethiopia, DR Congo, Eritrea and Madagascar expecting doubling of their current subscriber bases by 2015.

The new undersea cables connecting many parts of Africa for the first time and giving other territories more affordable and accessible Internet access are also spurring rapid growth in broadband. Today there are about 12-million mobile broadband subscriptions in Africa, according to informa. World Wide Worx research shows that about 10% of these are in South Africa.

However, says Informa, by 2015 that number will increase to 265-million mobile broadband subscriptions. According to senior Informa analyst Thecla Mbongue, that will represent 31.5% of of a total of 842-million mobile phone subscriptions the continent will have by 2015. And, more significantly, ‚There will be almost 360-million users of mobile-money services on the continent by 2014.‚

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