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Africa: Mobile Internet Taking Off
May 5, 2009 (090505)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The number of people in Africa using their mobile to access the
Internet has rocketed over the last year. In many instances the
number of mobile Internet subscribers far outstrips their fixed
line equivalent. ... By the end of 2008, South Africa had 1.35
million Internet subscribers, of which, according to World Wide
Worx, 794,000 were wireless Internet subscribers ...I hear you
saying that this is South Africa and the rest of Africa is
different. [But similar proportions hold in Uganda, Tanzania, and
other countries] - Russell Southwood, Balancing Act Africa
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains this article from the latest
Balancing Act Africa (http://www.balancingact-africa.com) on the
rapid expansion of mobile internet access in Africa. Also included:
a link to a new book on "Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of
Everyday Africa" (http://www.africafocus.org/books/isbn.php?9956558532) featuring
case studies of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Sudan, and
Tanzania; excerpts from another recent article from Balancing
Act Africa on the rapid advance of mobile phones for cash transfers
in Kenya; and report on a South African initiative to promote a
strategy to deliver broadband internet access available to all
South Africans (http://www.apc.org/en/node/8361/).
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on information and communication
technology, visit http://www.africafocus.org/ictexp.php
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Mobile Phones: The New Talking Drums of Everyday Africa (Paperback)
by Mirjam de Bruijn (Editor), Francis Nyamnjoh (Editor), Inge
Brinkman (Editor) Bamenda: Cameroon: Langaa Publishers, 2009.
'We cannot imagine life now without a mobile phone' is a frequent
comment when Africans are asked about mobile phones. They have
become part and parcel of the communication landscape in many urban
and rural areas of Africa and the growth of mobile telephony is
amazing: from 1 in 50 people being users in 2000 to 1 in 3 in 2008.
Such growth is impressive but it does not even begin to tell us
about the many ways in which mobile phones are being appropriated
by Africans and how they are transforming or are being transformed
by society in Africa. This volume ventures into such appropriation
and mutual shaping. Rich in theoretical innovation and empirical
substantiation, it brings together reflections on developments
around the mobile phone by scholars of six African countries
(Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Mali, Sudan and Tanzania) who
explore the economic, social and cultural contexts in which the
mobile phone is being adopted, adapted and harnessed by mobile
Balancing Act Africa News Update
Issue No 452 1st May 2009
Africa's rapid mobile Internet growth will drive network expansion
and media spend
The number of people in Africa using their mobile to access the
Internet has rocketed over the last year. In many instances the
number of mobile Internet subscribers far outstrips their fixed
line equivalent. Sinking voice ARPUs may finally come off their
downward curve on the rise of data revenues. Cheaper bandwidth and
new developments look set to encourage this growth. The mobile is
also a media as increasing numbers of people use it to access stuff
and as it establishes itself as a media, advertisers will not be
far behind. Russell Southwood looks at what's happening just below
By the end of 2008, South Africa had 1.35 million Internet
subscribers, of which, according to World Wide Worx, 794,000 were
wireless Internet subscribers and 588,000 were ADSL subscribers.
Even discounting fixed wireless subscribers, there are more mobile
Internet subscribers than fixed.
I hear you saying that this is South Africa and the rest of Africa
is different. So I present you with two more pieces of evidence.
UCC's year end figures for Uganda show 214,293 active mobile
Internet accounts up from 166,621 at the end of Q3, 2008. Compared
to? 22,000 fixed line subscribers. In late 2008 in Tanzania there
were 600,000 EDGE/GPRS subscribers and 15,000 HSDPA subscribers
compared to just over 70,000 fixed line Internet subscribers.
Several things are striking about these figures. Although there is
undoubtedly duplication between fixed and mobile Internet
subscribers, the number of mobile Internet subscribers is in the
hundreds of thousands whilst its fixed equivalent is in the tens of
thousands. It also implies that there is a far larger group of
people willing to buy Internet services if only it worked and was
These kinds of user numbers allow for a "critical mass" that will
encourage further use. So far there is much less data on revenues
but if data (including SMS) is around 12% of overall mobile
revenues in South Africa, it's hard to see why these kinds of
figures won't turn in significantly higher revenues elsewhere.
There is also a take-off point waiting to happen at the user end.
What's the difference between e-mail and SMS? A different interface
and one has a far more limited length of message. Several million
Africans in any country you care to name use SMS (Ugandans sent
US$39.4 million worth of them last year) so why can't they use
their mobile to send e-mails instead? The answer must in large part
lie in the simplicity of the SMS interface.
Enter a number of companies who have produced e-mail workarounds
that give you different levels of Internet functionality on some or
all phones. Synchronica boasts that its apps will deliver "a
Blackberry for the rest of us" in Africa. It has had a range of
deals with operators including Zain and MTN It is aimed at
consumers and business users who may not have high-end phones.
The software allows the user to receive e-mails and for them to be
sent back as e-mails. In addition any any SyncML-enabled device
will allow the user to synchronise Google contacts and calendars.
It believes its software is one weapon in the armoury of operators
to reduce churn.
ForgetMeNot's Message Optimiser product means that users can
initiate e-mails and add e-mail addresses to their phone: for the
latter, users are sent a number to use. This product claims to be
able to work across nearly all handsets, including many of the
cheapest. It will launch its first service with an operator in
South Africa at the end of the month.
It concatenates messages so it can "add" three SMS messages
together, for example, to give 480 characters. It will also allow
a local provider to let its users send an e-mail/SMS locally and
then deliver that e-mail internationally: in other words, Kofi in
Accra can send a message to his son in London for the price of an
South Africa's MXit (now owned by Naspers) allows users to send
Instant Messages to MSN Messenger, ICQ and Google Talk (among
others) a great deal more cheaply than sending SMSes because the
messages go via the Internet. It claims to have 11 million users in
Africa (of which 5.4 million are in South Africa) and that its use
will grow by 414% in Africa and the Middle East. Discount that
number by however much you like and you still end up with a big
If these developments are from the bottom up, then intuitive,
smart, touch screen phones are coming from the top down. In August
last year one carrier in Nigeria reported that after only a few
months, it had sold 20,000 Blackberry phones: not touch-screen
phones but an indicator nonetheless. There are no stats yet but the
number of iPhones seems to be growing and they are not just in the
hands of uber-technology adopters.
The icon-based apps on the iPhone provide a perfect template for
certain kinds of services, done in such a way that you don't even
have to be familiar with the Internet to use them. You just keep
tapping away and it explains itself.
All of this Mobile Internet usage makes mobile phones a media like
radio or television. Africans wanting to know the match score or
the headlines increasingly turn to their mobile. When the official
media isn't telling the full story, SMS goes into overdrive
providing some hard fact and a lot of rumour. Favourite TV shows
ask you to vote for participants and performers. Below-the-line
spending on competitions allows you to win prizes that boost brand
awareness. Millions of people in Africa are doing these things
Where advertising spend is tracked by media in Africa, Internet
spend is 1% in both Kenya and South Africa. As usage increases,
this is likely to go up to 3-5% in larger markets. The use of SMS
and mobile Internet as an advertising medium is usually below the
line 'spend' on promotions and therefore goes unrecorded. But there
is enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that this might also
constitute around 1% of advertising spend.
As advertising spend grows, content will become more sophisticated
and varied in order to attract people's attention. Who stands more
chance of delivering this kind of content? Africa's existing mobile
operators whose knowledge and understanding of content is limited
in a carefully walled garden? Independent local providers who share
the revenues more equitably than at present in an open community,
leaving the mobile operators to take the revenues for making it
work? I leave you to be the judge of that one.
Africa's mobile operators cannot believe their luck with the mobile
Internet. There are those who would like to portray it as a deeply
strategic move but in reality most involved have simply been
playing leapfrog with their competitors: it was always really 'suck
it and see' encouraged by good vendor deals. (We were early
sceptics so no-one gets everything right). But now 3G is leaking
out of the capital into a range of other towns and cities (see
Vodacom in Tanzania) and before long it will follow some of the
pattern of GSM voice diffusion. 3G implementation also provides a
range of network efficiencies that will provide incentives for this
type of roll-out.
All of this means that most mobile operators will have to do one of
two things: either upgrade their backhaul networks to allow for
data usage more widely across the network or separate data out
using WiMAX as many operators are already doing. For although it's
good news having all these customers, they will expect the service
to work and will not be impressed if the network goes down because
there are already a couple of users on the base station.
That said, the mobile Internet is on its way to becoming a reality
across the continent.
Balancing Act Africa News Update
Issue No 450 17th April 2009
M-Money services a huge success in Kenya but waiting for their
breakout moment elsewhere
Safaricom started its M-Pesa service in April 2007 with a first
year target of getting 0.5 million users. It passed this target
within six months and in February 2009 clocked up an astounding 5.8
million customers. Both in Kenya and elsewhere on the continent its
competitors have been putting in place their own competitive
M-Money products. But things seem to be going somewhat more slowly
outside of the Kenyan market for these innovative service. Russell
Southwood looks at what's happening and tries to identify what
makes a good M-Money market.
It has been estimated that 90% of Kenya's 37.9 million population
is unbanked. In February 2008 M-Pesa users transferred KS14.5
billion and cumulative total of money transferred since the launch
two years ago has been KS118 bn. However, M-Pesa transfers are
relatively small alongside total bank transactions.
The service has 7,512 agents countrywide. People with bank accounts
were amongst the first users but very quickly its appeal was almost
universal. Penetration rates are higher in urban areas but there
are also high-use points in places like remote refugee camps. As
Vaughan told us:"There's some really remote agents and we want to
encourage the service to go rural." One of the keys to the
service's success seems to be its extensive network of agents. Each
has to invest between KS50,000-100,000 and there is still
considerable interest from people looking to start a new business.
There will be two further developments of the service this year:
firstly, international transfers will be added ("some time in
2009") and the menu item Buy Goods will be implemented through a
partnership with Pay Bill. ...
[see full article at http://tinyurl.com/dxjjj9]
Launch of draft framework for a national broadband strategy
highlights policy vacuum in South Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa, Mar 25, 2009 (APC and partners)
A draft framework towards a broadband strategy in South Africa was
launched in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The framework was intended to
highlight the current policy vacuum around broadband roll-out in
South Africa, and to create a "popular movement" around broadband
in the country.
It was also hoped that a reinvigorated policy direction in South
Africa could propel the country back to the number one spot in
internet access rankings on the continent.
The draft framework was one of the outcomes of a one-day
multi-stakeholder workshop held in Parktown by the South African
National Broadband Forum, an initiative of the Shuttleworth
Foundation, SANGONeT, South Africa Connect, and the Association for
Progressive Communications (APC).
The forum said the framework was intended as an advocacy document
that can be used to lobby government around broadband roll-out, as
well as by sectors to galvanize a pro-active response to the
imminent availability of the SEACOM undersea cable in South Africa
Scaling up ICT investment
According to one presentation, South Africa needs to spend some
R40-billion on information and communications technology (ICTs)
infrastructure roll-out a year in order to keep its place in
international access rankings. While this was a "guesstimate", it
served to illustrate that current spending patterns are nowhere
near what they need to be in order for the country to compete
successfully in the information economy. This, together with a lack
of policy coherence, was likely to increase the access divide in
the country, and have a negative knock-on impact on poverty
alleviation efforts. Broadband had a crucial role to play in the
delivery of government services, as well as in economic development
APC's Willie Currie said there was an opportunity for lobbying for
progressive policy development on broadband given the upcoming
elections, and that the post-Polokwane administration had given
itself the task of scaling up service delivery to the majority of
He pointed out that there were parallels between South Africa and
the United States, which had like this country been dropping in
global access rankings. As a result, a broadband strategy became a
selling point of the Obama administration's election campaign, and
was now high on its agenda.
"South Africa was a leading economy with respect to internet
penetration," Currie said. "Now we are fourth in Africa behind
Egypt, Morocco and Nigeria. With the upcoming elections, there is
a window of opportunity when new ideas can be proposed and demands
raised. Engagement can take place."
Framework available for public input
The draft framework, which is available online for comment and
input, sets out the vision or broadband take-up in South Africa in
general terms. Its overall goal is for "[a]ll South Africans [to]
have affordable broadband access to the Internet". It then goes on
to articulate general principles around demand and supply-side
objectives, as well those dealing with e-governance, e-citizenship
The Shuttleworth Foundation's Steve Song has encouraged
stakeholders to add their name in support of the framework. "The
intention is to use it to ask questions of politicians and
political parties," he said. "It is a reference point that allows
us to ask: 'Where do you stand?' We want to create a popular
movement around broadband as a strategic issue."
The one-day workshop was attended by stakeholders from across
board, including government, the private sector and civil society.
Presentations included projections on internet penetration in South
Africa, the impact of broadband on content industries, education
and e-citizenship, as well as on using ICTs to deal with crises
such as climate change.
The draft Framework for a Comprehensive National Broadband Strategy
in South Africa is also downloadable, in pdf format, from:
http://www.apc.org (direct link: http://tinyurl.com/cns9kj)
The workshop was blogged at http://www.southafricaconnect.org.za.
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Alan Finlay firstname.lastname@example.org 084 429 5133
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