Africa is one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world, but the continent's unique tech landscape and lack of formal infrasructure imposes barriers that don’t exist elsewhere in the world. This month at PocketGamer we are focusing on the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region's growing games industry, and in November companies and industry figures will be meeting at Pocket Gamer Connects Jordan and the PGC Leaders Summit Riyadh.
Waheed Adam is the Executive Chairman of iTouch, headquartered in Cape Town, South Africa and a Board Member of MEF (Mobile Ecosystem Forum) a global trade body that acts as an impartial and authoritative champion for addressing issues affecting the broadening mobile ecosystem. Established over 20 years ago, MEF has a strong presence in Africa, positively impacting the daily lives of millions.
In this guest post, Waheed discusses the unique challenges of the region and what lessons the rest of the world can learn from African innovation.
The mobile industry needs to keep an eye on Africa. It’s predicted that the continent will have 120 million new mobile subscribers by 2025, taking the total number of subscribers to 615 million (50 percent of the region’s population). Whilst Africa has been behind the technology adoption curve, it’s not short of innovations. So, what can the global mobile industry learn from Africa?
Rather than seeing the rollout of mobile connectivity as a cost, we should view it as an investment. Mobile connectivity creates digital infrastructure. Mobile infrastructure is far easier to set up than the traditional infrastructure of wired landlines and fibre optic broadband. With a basic smartphone and a 3G signal, these resources then become the technological infrastructure.
In Kenya, for example, ATMs are a rare sight. They require wired networking, restocking, and security. But with mobile wallets and internet banking, someone selling fruit at the side of the road can now get paid electronically, without the need for either buyer or seller to visit an ATM, allowing them to sell more and in greater quantities.
These fruit sellers now have the electronic money required to pay suppliers electronically, and so on, creating a rolling digital infrastructure through a simple smartphone and 3G connection.
Africa provides a fantastic model of how a mobile-first economy creates low cost, rapidly scalable digital infrastructure that can be replicated across the world.
An increasing number of successful African businesses have been established to solve challenges specific to Africa. And while many solutions created in Africa may be designed to solve African problems, there are plenty of innovations that will also benefit other regions.
Take pre-paid mobile credit, for example. As many Africans lack access to formal banking, they are unable to complete the credit checks required for pay-monthly mobile contracts. So, pre-paid mobile credit was invented as a way of enabling people to get connected without the need for credit checks – an innovation that has benefitted people across Europe and the rest of the world.
Large foreign multinationals, such as Google, as well as global VCs, are starting to recognise the potential of African innovation and are setting up regional innovation hubs. Through mobile internet, these innovations can be rapidly shared and improved upon.
As such, the mobile industry should invest in innovation hubs, especially in regions historically affected by adversity. People in these regions have had to innovate to solve regional challenges, making them quiet innovation powerhouses.
One major challenge to mobile growth in Africa is the plethora of local regulations and cultural expectations. Africa contains 54 different countries, each with its own regulations; the continent shows us that standardisation is key, and as the global mobile industry expands, it needs to work together to ensure standardisation across markets.
Despite 75% of all ecommerce now being done via mobile, only 58% of Africans can now access 4G internet. The majority of those connected to 4G are in urban centres, with 47% of urban dwellers connected compared to just 26% of rural dwellers.
These mobile owners spend large chunks of their salaries on mobile connectivity. Just one gigabyte of data could cost as much as a third of someone’s salary. This is around 50% more than in Europe and prohibits growth.
By focusing on reducing the costs of data while increasing penetration (including reducing the cost of handsets), more people can connect to the global digital infrastructure. This will create numerous global benefits, such as information sharing, innovation and economic growth.
MEF will be hosting a MEF Africa Meetup on 7th Nov at the Radisson RED Hotel in Cape Town, and the next MEF Africa Roundtable, to discuss consumer protection, fighting fraud, regulation and best practice, takes place at AfricaCom in Cape Town on 8th November 2022.
Edited by Lewis Rees