The Growth of Mobile Subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa Stalls due to Challenges of Affordability


The penetration of mobile subscription in Sub-Saharan Africa has experienced exponential growth in the recent past. However, according to the latest reports from GSMA, the numbers have stalled at 44% since the end of 2017 making it below the global average which is at 66%. The total number of subscribers across the region is 444 million which is roughly 9% of the global subscribers. The growth of subscribers has gone down in the recent years. This is as the sector tries to overcome challenges such as youthful population and affordability. However, the rate of the growth is still higher than the global averages.

Expectations are high that the local subscriber numbers will increase at a CAGR of 4.8% between 2017 and 2022. These will be more than double the global growth rate for the same period. The rate of penetration of subscribers will be 50% by the end of 2023, and it will get to 52% by 2025.

The declining of the number of subscribers during the period when less than half of the population are in possession of mobile subscription is a clear indication of the opportunities and the challenges the mobile sector faces in connecting new subscribers in the region. The growth opportunities in the coming days will be highly concentrated in young demographic groups, low-ARPU, and rural markets.

According to the data released by the World Bank, 40% of the region’s population is below 16 years of age. This is the age group that has the lowest ownership of mobile phones compared to the whole population. Moreover, the sector is facing challenges like affordability in its attempt to connect more subscribers. Political instability and economic instability in some countries possess a threat to low disposal incomes and purchasing power. Furthermore, network economics is the source of challenges for mobile operators aiming to connect population in remote and rural areas.

All these will make Sub-Saharan Africa as a least penetrated region up to 2025. Roughly 747 million SIM connections were recorded in the region by the end of 2017. This was with the exclusion of cellular IoT that represented another 16 million connections. The number is expected to increase to more than 1 billion come 2025. The ownership of multi-SIM has reduced in the recent past, and the decline is expected to continue in the coming years. The trend indicates some factors for improving network quality, SIM registration, and reduced-price arbitrage opportunities. These findings are from large-scale consumer research carried out by GSMA Intelligence in 50 countries in developing and developed markets. The research was carried out between June and August 2017 and reported by GSMA.


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Written by Denis Opudo

Am an engineer who's a tech blogger, hit me up on [email protected] and we base our discussion on technology in Africa and the rest of the world.
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