Africa in 1Q 2013 is now the third largest market for mobile subscriptions, with the Ericsson Mobility Report for 1Q 2013 published this week recording 775 million mobile subscriptions, compared to China with 1,147 million and the Rest of Asia-Pacific with 1,275 million.
In terms of Net Additions, Africa was joint second with Rest of Asia-Pacific with 27 million each, only China having a greater number at 30 million. The Middle East was the smallest regional market according to Ericsson, with 284 million mobile subscriptions and 8 million Net Additions in the first quarter. However it beat Western Europe with only 2 million Net Additions and North America with 3 million.
The importance of Africa is highlighted by its ranking by mobile penetration, with the continent being ranked eighth in a field of nine with 71 percent; so with high Net Additions and relative low mobile penetration, Africa appears to poised for further growth in the medium to long-term. Indeed Africa with 71 percent Mobile Penetration has just over half of the mobile penetration of leader Central & Eastern Europe with 132 percent.
The Ericsson Mobility Report also notes that almost all handsets in Western Europe and North America will be smartphones, whilst Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific regions will see smartphone ownership standing at 40-50 percent of handset subscriptions.
The Middle East and Africa region was dominated by GSM/EDGE in 2012, and Ericsson forecasts that by 2018 it will have the largest share of GSM/EDGE, driven by the demand for low cost phones.
And this highlights another area of potential huge growth in Africa and the Middle East. In May Analysys Mason's published its survey of mobile Internet users in 2012–2013 in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) which found that 80 percent of them use over-the-top (OTT) messaging services, of which 44 percent are using the WhatsApp Messenger. This seems to suggest a growing adoption of IP-based messaging services in the MEA region, and reinforces how important it is for operators to respond to this threat as part of their strategy.
For the record, Analysys Mason ran their study November 2012–January 2013 with a sample of 4,250 mobile Internet users in six countries, of which three were in MENA, together with Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. Click here for more about 'Mobile Internet Survey in the Middle East and Africa 2013: OTT services and mobile money usage'.
But, of course, growing Internet usage demands better networks and the mobile operators have got to prepare for a variety of challenges including much more data usage, increasingly more services in the cloud, severely marginalized core services, and development of VAS across communications, content, and commerce. Part of the emerging mix is migration to LTE, and research house MindCommerce noted in its LTE Strategy 2013 - 2018 study published last month that beyond the obvious radio planning and engineering there is a huge effort in the areas of application planning, business operations planning, and technical planning. Developing effective strategies for success with LTE is probably the key to the successful commercialization of 4G for all mobile network operators, and particularly in Africa where there is something of a 'clean sheet'.