Mobile phone usage has become ubiquitous in parts of Africa that previously had few tools for communication. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have enormous mobile phone usage, with millions of people connecting every day, while others have been much slower to join the technological revolution. Here are the countries in sub-Saharan Africa with most and least mobile use.
The numbers shown here reflect average mobile subscriptions per 100 people, based on World Bank Database statistics from 2013 – the most recent available.
Sources: Data.WorldBank.org, Budde.com
The Central African Republic remains very low on the ranking of African countries’ mobile market penetration, but that may change soon. The CAR is part of the Central African Backbone project, a World Bank-sponsored initiative designed to remedy the lack of international connectivity in Central African countries, including Cameroon and Chad. CAR suffers from persistent conflict that has hampered telecommunications development, and there is still little infrastructure for mobile phones outside of the capital area and other urban regions.
Djibouti is one of the last remaining countries in the world that allows a monopoly in its telecommunications sector. Djibouti Telecom owns all telecom services – including mobile lines, fixed lines, Internet, and broadband services. Though its mobile market is growing, lack of competition and foreign investment has stunted the mobile penetration potential in Djibouti.
Ethiopia, like Djibouti, has allowed its state-run Ethio Telecom to have a monopoly on telecom services, limiting this populous nation with regard to competitive mobile growth. Quality of service has always been a problem throughout the country, especially since the expiration of a contract with France Telecom, and the Ethiopian government has continually rejected calls to privatize the industry and allow for market competition. The government maintains complete control over mobile networks, and even has access to call records of phone users and Internet traffic laws – a potential breach of privacy that leads to widespread mistrust of cellular technology among Ethiopians.
Since its independence, South Sudan has struggled to establish sufficient infrastructure, and the deficit reaches into its mobile phone and telecommunications sector as well. The ongoing civil war has limited foreign investment that would allow for increased development, and the mobile market, along with the internet and broadband markets, remain largely untapped. Additionally, 80 percent of the population lives outside main urban centers, making it harder to reach without increased sophisticated infrastructure.
Though Burundi remains extremely low on the ranking of African nations for mobile market penetration, it is considered a popular choice for telecom market investors and is expected to take off in the coming years. Mobile market penetration is low, but has seen an increase lately that demonstrates wide potential, should the Burundi government be able to build a national fiber network to connect to international cables, mostly located in Kenya and Tanzania.
Eritrea suffers from a state-owned monopoly of its telecom services, and it’s the least developed telecommunications market in Africa. The Eritrean Telecommunications Services Corporation has begun a roll out of 3G networks, but without competition, increased penetration is unlikely. There is little investment in the telecom sector, though foreign investors are keen, should the government allow it. Eritrea was actually voted among the top five African markets for ICT investment in 2012, and is poised for a boom, should the market become more open.
Namibia was one of the last African nations to introduce competition to the mobile communications sector. There was only one network available until 2007. Market penetration has always been high, but Telecom Namibia is by far the biggest player.
Mauritius was the first market in Africa to launch cellular systems in 1989, and has an extremely advanced telecom sector overall. As its economy continues to grow from strong tourism and financial services sectors, Mauritius is expected to become an even more advanced leader in telecommunications in Africa. As the mobile market migrates from voice to data services, the country is pushing to become a regional telecom hub with Singapore as its role model.
Though Mali saw a slight downturn in its mobile market penetration in 2012 with the contraction of its economy overall, the statistics have gone back on the upswing thanks to increased security and stability. Service providers Orange and Sotelma (with its mobile subsidiary Malitel) are primarily responsible for the bulk of mobile subscriptions in Mali. Orange still commands more than 75 percent of the market share, as it has since it was introduced to Mali in 2003.
South Africa’s network is considered the most advanced on the continent, with four main networks saturating the market — Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom SA. Mobile SIM penetration is well above 100 percent due to separate subscriptions for voice and data services, and 3G and 4G networks are highly developed. South Africa is also known for its role in leading telecommunication technologies in the media and entertainment sectors, reducing costs and encouraging business.
Due to liberal and effective regulatory reforms, Botswana has long been a leader in mobile market penetration in Africa. Service-neutral licensing accounts for the increasing convergence of technologies and services. There is high use of multiple SIM cards from the three main operators in the country – Mascom Wireless, Orange Botswana, and BeMobile.
The groundwork for Gabon’s cell phone infrastructure was laid in 1999 when the government awarded three mobile telephone licenses and two ISP licenses, and also established an independent regulatory authority. In 2008, Gabon became the first African country to exceed 100 percent mobile market penetration, and its 3G capacity has been growing since 2011, when it was first licensed.