Mobile Communications

Dr K. F. Lai (Africa) - The Transformation of Mobile Africa

How Advances in Technology are Impacting One of the World's Largest Mobile Markets

The mobile landscape in Africa has been a key growth market in recent years and hotspots continue to emerge. Our latest report found that Ghana (with 61% annual growth), Tanzania (81%) and Egypt (14%) are all key markets to watch as more consumers take to the mobile internet. Egypt in particular has a relatively high (33% in Feb 2013) smartphone penetration and nearly 70% of Egyptian consumers prefer to go online with their mobiles.

Technology innovation never stands still in the mobile devices market and this is impacting the African market as much as anywhere else. New mobile devices like the Nokia 105 and a variety of Firefox powered smartphones offer consumers devices with the capability to do more but at an affordable price. In the coming year or so, we can expect more new phones powered by other operating systems (Tizen, Ubuntu, Jolla) to also make the scene.

These new devices are of course taking advantage of the growth of more smartphone users across Africa. Competition among the manufacturers naturally brings the immediate benefit of lower prices. This first began with the Lumia and Asha models of affordable smartphones and continues with the recently released Nokia 301. More manufacturers will no doubt join the ranks.

An African Mobile Ecosystem

Operating systems help us make changes to how a device works to serve a variety of purposes. These ‘purposes' are built into applications or mobile sites that can demand interaction in many different ways (say, a touchscreen). This flexibility can mean more, and new applications can then be made to keep up with our changing needs. This in turn creates an ecosystem of developers (who will build applications and sites).

As Africans turn to mobiles for more online services, a second benefit is the growth of opportunities that will emerge for home grown developers in each market across continental Africa. Consumers in many markets demand more locally relevant services and content, and the creation of a new ecosystem can be a step in fulfilling this need. The VMK smartphone in Congo, for example, has developed its own ‘App Store' to rectify the fact that Google does not accept credit facilities originating from the Congo.

Besides the promise of an African App Ecosystem, these operating systems are web based, making it easier for developers to create apps without major compatibility issues - meaning more mobile services for consumers and fewer problems with them. This can be a promise of cheaper and faster development cycles across the many tech centres in South Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

All this new technology is clearly big news for the continent, not least because Africa has predominantly always used feature phones, being one of the highest users of this type of device in the world. Across Egypt, South Africa, Algeria, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya, feature phone usage currently falls between 63% and 93%.

These developments are causing the African market to become more competitive than ever before, creating huge opportunities for both established and new mobile brands that can cater to new and varied uses of smartphones and tablets. The more established brands like Nokia and Blackberry are having to work harder to retain consumers in Africa who are about to migrate to smartphones, while simultaneously trying to win their next generation of users by offering advanced yet affordable handsets.

As this market continues to go from strength to strength BuzzCity is preparing for an influx of interest from marketers in Africa as well as those from outside the region who want to target consumers here, looking to maximise opportunities with Africa's new generation of mobile.


By Dr K. F. Lai, CEO, BuzzCity



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