Mobile communication in Africa is booming. Total mobile penetration on the continent reached 65% in 2012.
The annual mobile growth rate currently sits at 20%, rising to 50% in some countries. In addition, 90% of all African phone lines are mobile, meaning that in reality it could be one of the first continents to see the complete demise of the traditional landline.
It is, perhaps, the fact that the majority of Africans do not have the same traditional attachment to fixed line telecommunications that has seen such a quick and explosive growth in mobile usage. Unlike European or North American nations, where Wi-Fi is often seen as the preferred way to access the internet (whether on a mobile, tablet or laptop), in Africa it is the mobile network that carries the brunt of the load. Of the one Exabyte of data that travels over the global mobile network each month, it is fair to say an increasing amount comes from Africa.
This hunger for data will only increase as smartphone adoption in Africa continues to grow. The GSMA predicts that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, the number of smartphone users will grow by 40% each year up to 2017. African operators must ensure that their networks are prepared to cope with this continuous growth in demand, particularly as the shift towards LTE gains momentum in African markets.
Mobile subscribers across the world rate network performance as the most important factor in relation to operator satisfaction. This is no different in Africa. As mobile penetration has risen over the last 10 years, mobile networks across the continent have been built and updated in an ad hoc nature. In the days when ‘voice was king,’ this was acceptable. However, networks specifically built for data consumption are a different beast and, as such, special attention must be paid to network optimisation.
Central to ensuring networks are built to last include technologies such as MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) which will be a crucial tool in increasing spectral efficiency for cell sites in LTE networks and beyond. MIMO improves capacity and other aspects of network performance by using multiple antennas at both the cell site and the user’s handset.
As well as network improvements, a greater focus on regulation must come into force across African markets. Governments throughout Africa have traditionally been slow to allocate and free up spectrum needed by operators rolling out new technologies such as LTE (and in some countries the upgrade from 2G to 3G).
There has also been reluctance from regulators to push new technologies that would ultimately benefit network infrastructure across Africa. The discussion around network sharing technologies, and neutral indoor and outdoor antenna systems (DAS) solutions in particularly, must continue. The implementations of such solutions are not only mutually beneficial to African operators in terms of increasing mobile coverage (particularly in urban areas) but are also highly cost effective. Such technologies have been used to great effect by both European and US network providers and CommScope is committed to helping replicate these benefits in Africa.
The African economy is projected to grow by 4.8% in 2013 and accelerate further to 5.3% in 2014, fuelled by an increasingly entrepreneurial population. As with any economy, telecommunications are integral to continued growth, and in Africa’s case mobile is fast becoming the backbone of the continent’s ongoing success. By developing stronger networks, mobile operators can ensure this economic growth continues.
Vick Mamlouk is the vice president of wireless sales for Middle East and Africa at Commscope.