As the world celebrates this month’s signing up of the five-billionth mobile phone subscriber, Africa is stepping forward to claim credit as one of the regions that have driven the phenomenal growth over the past decade.
This has been accompanied by economic growth with experts foreseeing even greater development in different sectors, buoyed by the mobile phone technology over the next decade.
From only 16 million subscribers in 2000, the continent now boasts about half a billion subscribers, according to telecommunications firm Ericsson.
The mobile phone has also evolved to take up more roles beyond just making calls and exchanging text messages.
Studies have shown that mobile phone companies are raking in more revenue through data services than voice calls.
The increasing popularity of social networking sites such as Facebook is cited as a contributing factor.
According to a December 2009 study by Ericsson, though the use of data services has grown by 280 per cent over the past two years, the figure is projected to double annually over the next five years.
With the addition of a billion new subscribers in just 18 months, resulting in four out of five people being connected, Ericsson is now forecasting an even rapid growth over the next decade. This time it is not just mobile phones but also other devices such as computers.
Coupled with the development in mobile phone technology such as the 3G network which will enable deployment of advanced applications such as video conferencing, mobile TV services and tele-medicine that require high speed connections, the uptake of mobile phone technology is expected to increase exponentially.
Ericsson expects the number of connected devices to hit the 50 billion mark over the next decade.
According to Ericsson country manager Craig Hosken, mobile broadband subscriptions will stand at more than 3.4 billion by 2015, with over 100 million coming from sub-Saharan Africa — an almost tenfold increase of the 360 million recorded in 2009.
This is expected to increase even further, considering up to 80 per cent of people accessing the Internet will be doing so using their mobile devices.
“This is already the case in Africa,” Mr Hosken said, adding that machine-to-machine communications, also referred to as M2M, will be a key component in the future growth of the mobile industry.
M2M includes medical applications such as remote medical diagnostics which would facilitate the collection, monitoring, and analysis of patient data from rural or isolated locations; or energy companies using smart meters that increase business efficiency and cut operational expenses.
The technological advancement will see the transport sector enjoy tracking solutions that would improve route optimisation and safety for vehicles on the road.
Other applications include digital signs that can be updated remotely, cameras that can send pictures halfway around the world are other examples that machine-to-machine technologies make possible.
All this increased deployment of information and communications technology (ICT) is expected to contribute significantly towards the economic development of the continent.