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More than half-billion mobile subscribers in Africa

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More than half a billion people across Africa are now subscribed to mobile services as the continent continues to migrate rapidly to mobile broadband networks, reveals a new GSMA study.

‘The Mobile Economy: Africa 2016’ study was released this week at the GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa event in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The report also highlights the increasing contribution of Africa’s mobile industry to the regional economy, including employment and public funding, and mobile’s role a platform for digital and financial inclusion.

“More than half a billion people across Africa are now subscribed to a mobile network, providing them not just with connectivity but a gateway to a range of other essential services in areas such as digital identity, healthcare and financial services,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA. “The rapid move to mobile broadband networks is also unlocking new opportunities for consumers, businesses and governments, growing an ecosystem that last year added more than $150 billion in value to Africa’s economy.”

Network Investments and Smartphones Driving Mobile Broadband Adoption

The report finds that there were 557 million unique mobile subscribers across Africa at the end of 2015, equivalent to 46 per cent of the continent’s population, making Africa the second-largest – but least penetrated – mobile market in the world. Africa’s three largest markets – Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa – together accounted for around a third of the total subscriber base. The number of unique mobile subscribers is forecast to reach 725 million by 2020, accounting for 54 per cent of the expected population by this point.

African mobile subscribers are rapidly migrating to mobile broadband networks and services, a result of ongoing network rollouts and the increasing availability of affordable mobile broadband devices and tariffs. Mobile broadband (3G/4G) accounted for just over a quarter of total connections at the end of 2015, but is expected to account for almost two-thirds by 2020. By mid-2016, there were 72 live 4G networks in 32 countries across Africa, half of which have launched in the last two years. Meanwhile, the number of smartphone connections in Africa is forecast to more than triple over the next five years, rising from 226 million in 2015 to 720 million by 2020.

Mobile’s Contribution to African GDP, Jobs and Public Funding to Increase

The use of mobile technologies and services across Africa generated $153 billion in economic value last year, equivalent to 6.7 per cent of the region’s GDP. This contribution is expected to increase to $214 billion by 2020 (7.6 per cent of expected GDP) as countries in Africa continue to benefit from the improvements in productivity and efficiency brought about by increased take-up of mobile services. Africa’s mobile ecosystem also supported 3.8 million jobs in 2015 and made a $17 billion contribution to the public sector via general taxation. The number of jobs supported is forecast to rise to 4.5 million by 2020, while the tax contribution is expected to increase to $20.5 billion.

The report also explains how mobile is powering innovation and entrepreneurship across Africa. It notes that there are now approximately 310 active tech hubs across the region, including 180 accelerators or incubators. Mobile operators are supporting this ecosystem by opening up APIs to third-party developers in areas such as messaging, billing, location and mobile money, which has allowed start-ups to scale quickly.

Mobile technology is also playing a central role in addressing many of the social challenges in Africa, including the ability to provide citizens with official identities, tackling the ‘digital divide’ by enabling access to the mobile internet, and delivering financial inclusion via mobile money services. The number of mobile subscribers in Africa that access the mobile internet has tripled in the last five years, reaching 300 million by 2015, equivalent to a quarter of the African population. An additional 250 million subscribers are expected to become mobile internet users by 2020, bringing the total to 550 million (41 per cent of expected population).

“The positive transformational impact of mobile is being felt more profoundly in Africa than anywhere else in the world; Africa’s mobile industry is at the forefront of helping to deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals,” added Granryd. “We are focused on creating a better future for citizens and businesses across Africa, providing access to essential information and services, improved employment and economic opportunities, and greater productivity and competitiveness.”

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

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The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

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ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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