Africa: Rapid Mobile Growth with No End in Sight

Category: Culture, International Business

Africa’s mobile market is booming. In 1998 there were fewer than four million mobiles on the entire continent. By 2011, there were over 500 million, and by 2012 there were some 650 million mobile subscribers, according to the World Bank. To put it another way, from 2000 to 2011, the African mobile phone market has grown 40-fold, making it only second to South Asia in terms of mobile growth rate.

Phones have transformed banking, activism, education, entertainment, disaster management, agriculture and health from Egypt to South Africa. Africa is large, but here are some countries that illustrate African mobile growth and worth investigating further.


Nigeria represents Africa’s largest telecom market with roughly 100 million mobile phone lines, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission. More people access the internet via mobile phones than desktop computers, and given that most mobile users have basic feature phones, as smartphones enter the marketplace, this trend will only continue. Interestingly, Nigeria’s mobile music industry (including everything from mobile downloads to ringtone and caller-tune subscriptions) is now a multimillion-dollar industry, says CNN.


Between 2000 and 2010, Kenyan mobile phone firm Safaricom saw its subscriber base increase in excess of 500-fold. Part of this probably has to do with M-Pesa (M for mobile and Pesa for the Swahili word meaning “money”). Launched by Vodafone and Safaricom, Kenya’s largest mobile operator, this service has become a model for mobile money management for the entire continent. Within five years, M-Pesa provided services to 15 million Kenyans, over a third of Kenya’s population. This application’s explosive popularity has expanded it and others like it into neighboring countries long before mobile banking became accessible in the United States.


In Uganda about 10 million people, roughly 30 percent of the population, own a mobile phone. Mobile platforms for transferring money are also popular, starting with MTN Mobile Money launched by the MTN telecom company. As infrastructure continues to improve, mobiles will become easier for those in remote regions to connect. For example, farmers now working with the microfinance organization Grameen Foundation can lease smartphones, which are often too expensive for purchase. These smartphones allow farmers to get information on seasonal weather reports and market prices as well as planting advice, which then is shared with neighbors. The program is growing and illustrates the fact that many people have access to a mobile phone even if they are themselves not a subscriber.

Development is still very much underway for most of Africa and mobile devices are definitely in the forefront of this push. Currently most users rely on feature phones and not smartphones, though with recent developments from companies like Nokia and future improvements on mobile network speeds point to ample opportunity for growth. So don’t try and launch your latest iPhone app in Nigeria quite yet; instead, look at how you can adapt to the SMS/feature phone internet most users access. Interested in targeting the growing African markets yourself? Contact us today to learn more about how you can adapt to these rapidly mobile consumers.