The Rise Of The Mobile Phone In Africa

| April 26, 2015

The rise of mobile phone in Africa has been a fast one. They’ve managed to skip the landline stage of infrastructure development, and move straight to cell phone. This has transformed communications and internet access across the whole of sub Saharan Africa. Many people now have smartphones, yet older generation phones still remain very popular, and texting is the main method of communication via mobile phones in the region.

Africans on Cell Phones

Africans on Cell Phones

Mobile Phone Popularity

Back in 2002, it was roughly 1 in every 10 people who owned a mobile phone in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana. The rate of cell phone ownership has since exploded. Now in South Africa and Nigeria, cell phones are as popular as they are in the United States. 34% of South Africans own and use a smartphone with internet access and apps. Cell phone usage varies with different areas of South Africa. Sending text messages, talking pictures, and recording video, all remain the most popular uses of mobile phone, with sms text messaging outstripping the usage in many developed countries. Nations such as Kenya, and Uganda have seen a fast take up on mobile banking, and this is now relatively common among mobile phone users.

Ghana’s Mobile Rise

Ghana has seen an explosive rise in mobile phone usage. Back in 2002 only about 8% of Ghanians owned a cell phone. Now that number is closer to 83%. A tenfold increase. They are just slightly behind the uptake of mobile phones in the USA with a total of 89% using mobile phones compared to 2002 when 64% used them. This is the story of mobile phone technologies in South Africa. They still lag far behind other nations when it comes to internet browsing though, with 51% of people using their phone for access to the world wide web. Smartphone app usage is at 31% in Ghana, with the most popular smartphone surprisingly being the Blackberry. Considered as a status symbol in much of Africa, the level of Blackberry penetration is expected to rise to 16%. As more people upgrade their smartphones at relentless speed in developed countries, the previously popular Blackberry has been shipped abroad to countries such as Africa, and become the premium smartphone brand.

Mobile Phones & Education

Blackberry in Africa

Blackberry in Africa

It is roughly 34% of South Africans that say they own a smartphone that gives them internet access and apps, such as Blackberry iPhone, or an android device. In Nigeria smartphone ownership is at 27%, while in Uganda and Tanzania, it is still in single digits. The difference in education plays an important factor into how likely you are to own a cell phone or smartphone. 93% of Ugandans that had a secondary education or greater owned their own cell phone, while just 61% who were less educated, owning one. 57% of South Africans that had a secondary education owned a smartphone compared with a minimal 13% who were less educated. 75% of Ugandans who speak or read English own their own mobile phone. Only about 48% own a mobile that don’t speak English. In Nigeria those that spoke English accounted for approximately 33% of smartphone ownership, compared to only 2% without English speaking or reading skills.

Mobile Phone Demographics

When it comes to mobile phone ownership in regards to age, its common that both the younger and older generation own them. In a survey of 18 to 34 year old’s, it was found that approximately the same number in that demographic owned a mobile as the older than 34 group. This was true in all but Tanzania. It was discovered that men were more likely to own a mobile phone than women in 6 out of the 7 countries surveyed. 77% of Ugandan men owned a mobile phone compared to 54% of Ugandan women. In South Africa the differences in gender ownership was non existent, with both men and women owning in equal numbers. Men were most likely to own a smartphone than women in Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria and Uganda.

Text, Pictures and Video

Sending text messages remains the most popular activity by cell phone owners in Africa. 80% of mobile phone owners across the 7 sub saharan countries said they used SMS texting services. South Africa was the highest with 95% using the service, and in Tanzania, usage is at 92%. The second most popular activity to carry out with their mobile phones was pictures and videos. Using both was most popular among South Africans with usage at 60%. It was discovered that Africans with the ability to read or speak English used pictures and videos the most. 65% of Ghanaians aged 18 to 34 used these cell phone features, while the number dropped dramatically to 34% for those 35 and older.

African Mobile Money

Mobile banking has received a massive uptake in Africa due to the lack of bank branches readily available, and the regions love for smartphone apps. Using mobile money to send and receive payments in Africa is not as popular as talking pictures or video, but it was found that 61% of Kenyans used their mobile phone to transfer money. In Uganda that number was found to be 43% and Tanzania have a 39% uptake in the practise. There are a number of money services that have gained rapid popularity such as M-PESA who are based in Kenya, and Tanzania. MTN Mobile Money are a service popular in Uganda. Other countries in the region haven’t had the same uptake as those mentioned.

MTN Mobile Money and M Pesa

MTN Mobile Money and M Pesa

Social Media

The level of social media usage is not as high as developed countries, but it is picking up. Across the whole region there is a 19% uptake in accessing social media sites such as Facebook & Twitter. It is in Nigeria that social networking is currently the most popular with 35% of smartphone users regularly using social networks. In South Africa the usage is at 31%. Both of these countries have a large uptake of smartphones which accounts mostly for the rise of social media. In Nigeria and Kenya, mobile phone owners also enjoy getting information on their local political news with a large 28% of those surveyed saying they used their smartphone to access this type of information, along with social media.

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