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​Mobile in Sub-Saharan Africa: Can world’s fastest-growing mobile region keep it up?

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Sub-Saharan Africa is a large, diverse region, encompassing 37 countries ranging from South Africa and Nigeria, to Angola, Cameroon, and Mali.

It’s a region where mobile technology is going through a major period of change, according to trade body the GSMA. More than 90 percent of the population were covered by 2G networks at the end of 2017, but more advanced networks are now beginning to take hold.

“Future growth opportunities will increasingly be concentrated in rural and low-ARPU (average revenue per user) markets, as well as younger demographic groups,” the GSMA notes in its most recent report on the region.

“World Bank data indicates that around 40 percent of the population in the region is under the age of 16, a demographic segment that has significantly lower levels of mobile ownership than the population as a whole.”

Other growth considerations include the cost of services for less affluent consumers and the volume of customers, about 50 percent, living in rural environments.

Here’s what you need to know about the current and future mobile landscape in the region.

State of play: 10 key stats about mobile in Africa

  1. Three-quarters of the population have a SIM connection. That translates to 747 million people.
  2. However, mobile subscriber penetration is just 44 percent, well behind a global average of 66 percent.
  3. Despite this, with 444 million mobile subscribers, the region is home to nearly nine percent of all global mobile subscriptions.
  4. Around a third of mobile users, 250 million, have a smartphone.
  5. The number of mobile internet subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa has quadrupled since the start of the decade. For many users it’s the only way they can get online.
  6. Mobile broadband is currently available to two-thirds of the regional population.
  7. That means 400 million people in the region cannot access mobile broadband services at present, due to a lack of coverage.
  8. Six new 4G networks launched in the first half of 2018. There are now 120 such networks in the region. New networks and cheaper smartphones are helping drive the transition to mobile broadband.
  9. Getting online is expensive. Purchasing a handset and 500MB of data costs an average 10 percent of monthly income.
  10. At the end of 2017, there were 135 live mobile money services found in 39 countries across the region, with 122 million active accounts.

    Changes in average smartphone prices in the past five years.


    Image: Strategy Analytics

Looking ahead: 10 predictions for 2025

As well as outlining current market data, the GSMA also set out how it expects the Sub-Saharan mobile ecosystem to evolve.

  1. By 2025 mobile broadband will account for 87 percent of mobile connections. The current figure for these services is 38 percent.
  2. 3G will account for 60 percent of all mobile connections by 2025.
  3. Nearly 300 million new subscribers are expected to access the mobile internet in the next seven years.
  4. Active SIM connections are predicted to hit one billion in 2025, up from 747 million today.
  5. Subscriber numbers are expected to account for half the population in 2023, rising to 52 percent in 2025.
    smartphone-adoption.jpgsmartphone-adoption.jpg

    Smartphone adoption is expected to nearly double in the region.


    Image: GSMA Intelligence

  6. By 2025 it’s anticipated that 634 million people in the region will be mobile subscribers, up from 44 percent and 444 million people in 2017.
  7. After witnessing aggressive subscriber growth in recent years, the adoption curve will slow to “half the level recorded over the preceding five years”, the report notes.
  8. However, at a CAGR of 4.8 percent for the period 2017-2022, the regional subscribe base will still be “more than double the global growth rate over the same period”.
  9. It’s expected that there will be 690 million active smartphones in Sub-Saharan Africa. That’s a growth of 440 million handsets in the next eight years.
  10. Sub-Saharan Africa will be the last region to see 5G services launch, the GSMA predicts. It expects the first commercial 5G services to be launched in the region by 2021, with 12 million 5G connections, or about 2.6 percent of the total connection base, in 2025.
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Evolution of mobile networks in the region 2015-2025.


Image: GSMA Intelligence

Unlocking mobile’s potential: three key considerations

Although the picture painted by the GSMA is predominantly a positive one, the Sub-Saharan region will continue to lag behind others on key indices such as smartphone penetration and mobile subscriptions.

Nonetheless, the report highlights how MNO capex, mobile operator and start-up initiatives, as well as the rise of tech hubs in the region, are all playing a role in turning this potential into a reality.

On the issue of reaching rural audiences alone, the report notes: “For operators, revenue from rural sites is around a 10th of that for urban areas, owing to the low purchasing power of most rural dwellers, while backhaul, power and taxes account for up to 60 percent of the cost of providing mobile broadband in rural areas.”

subscriber-penetration.jpgsubscriber-penetration.jpg

Mobile subscriptions by region, 2017 vs 2025.


Image: GSMA Intelligence

For mobile ambitions in the region to be realized, several critical factors need to continue to be addressed. Here are three of them:

1. Making mobile and mobile internet more affordable

A handset and 500MB of data costs 10 percent of an average monthly income, double the five percent threshold recommended by the UN Broadband Commission. Addressing this issue will therefore be essential for driving future growth.

Data and subscription packages that cater for less cash-rich consumers are one part of the equation. But, alongside that shift, making handsets cheaper for consumers will also help.

The cost of purchasing smartphones has dropped considerably in the past five years. As the report observes: “The average selling price of smartphones has fallen below $120 in most markets, with sub-$100 smartphones, mostly from Asian manufacturers such as Gionee and Tecno, now widely available across the region.”

Government policies can also play a role in this area, driving digital inclusion and growing the digital economy in the process. In Ghana, proposals to remove customs duties of 20 percent on handsets and smartphones have been predicted to contribute to an additional three million handset purchases, with nearly one million of these being 3G-enabled devices.

2. Creating compelling reasons to get connected

Tech companies are seeking to tap into developing markets like Sub-Saharan Africa by offering ‘skinnier’ versions of their apps. Using minimal data, products like Facebook Lite, Facebook Messenger Lite, Twitter Lite, Google Go and others, are quicker and cheaper to use than their full-data equivalents.

Last year Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai announced plans to train 100,000 software developers in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, as well as creating in-person and online training packages designed to help 10 million people across the continent become more employable by developing their online skills.

SEE: IT pro’s guide to the evolution and impact of 5G technology (free PDF)

Elsewhere, opportunities abound for governments in the region to offer more mobile-services — including mobile payment services, as well as products and content in different languages.

The total value of mobile money transactions in Sub-Saharan Africa last year was worth $19.9bn, as individual transactions grew by 17.9 per cent to 1.2 billion year over year.

3. Incentivizing investment and expansion

Finally, given the cost of expanding service provision, stakeholders will also need to work together to do so in the most cost-effective manner possible.

Elements of this collaboration, such as infrastructure sharing, are already in place. We can expect to see more of this type of activity in the future.

Other considerations include: effective use of spectrum, including harnessing wavelengths currently being used for other services like analog TV, tax reform, and other policy levers designed to encourage operator investment.

The strategic investment of government funds to support training, local content provision, the move to m-government and improving mobile connectivity should also not be overlooked.

In 2017, for example, the Zimbabwean government approved a $250m project designed to improve mobile provision in rural areas, by funding more than 600 towers and base stations in areas with poor connectivity.

Given the size and scale of Sub-Saharan Africa, the evolution of the mobile landscape won’t be consistent. Due to the cost and technical challenges of upgrading networks and reaching new consumers, stakeholders must work together if the region’s mobile future is to be realized.

These joint efforts will require continued investment in infrastructure, content and skills, as mobile technologies continue to positively impact the lives of millions of people across the region.

There are already promising signs that this change is happening, but the size and scale of this challenge should not be underestimated.

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Map showing status of analog-to-digital switchover that can unlock spectrum for mobile broadband.


Image: GSMA Intelligence

Previous and related coverage

Where next for mobile in the Middle East? Big changes are coming

The Middle East and North Africa is a complex region, but mobile usage and services are changing fast.

What’s driving Middle East’s rush to social media?

The rise of visually orientated social networks, video, and messaging apps is helping shape usage.

Cybercrime: Why can’t the Middle East get to grips with the threats?

The region’s been investing heavily in tackling cybercrime but remains disproportionately affected.

Skype banned, WhatsApp blocked: What’s Middle East’s problem with messenger apps?

Some Middle Eastern countries seem to have a difficult relationship with VoIP services and messenger apps.

Get ready for Africa to emerge as a cybersecurity powerhouse TechRepublic

Africa’s growing technology adoption and economy means increased potential for impactful cyberevents, says IBM Security’s Caleb Barlow.

New Google Go app tackles slow internet speeds in Africa CNET

Google Go reduces the amount of data needed to display search results by 40 percent.

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The 2022 Mercedes-AMG SL is beautifully powerful

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The first Mercedes-Benz SL debuted nearly seven decades ago in Germany and was a success in both racing and sales to the public. Mercedes-AMG has launched the latest 2022 SL in the line, and the car has been completely reborn. Mercedes says its new sporty car combines genes from the original SL along with modern AMG driving performance.

The car has features characteristic of its SL lineage with a long wheelbase, short overhangs, long hood, the passenger compartment set well back on the chassis with a steeply raked windshield. The grille of the new SL was designed specifically to emphasize the width of the front and features 14 vertical slats as a design element linking the new car to SLs of the past, specifically the 300 SL racing car from 1952.

Mercedes also integrates LED headlamps with sharp outlines and slim LED rear lamps. The interior is designed around a theme of performance luxury with something Mercedes-AMG calls a “hyper analog” cockpit. As one would expect inside of a Mercedes-AMG vehicle, only the best materials and quality can be seen to bring the highest level of comfort, style, and performance. The interior of the 300 SL Roadster is minimalist and features an adjustable center display located in the center console that’s focused on the driver.

The vehicle is a 2+2, and the seats bring more functionality than in SLs of the past. Of particular note, the rear seats are designed for daily practicality and usable space. The interior design combines what Mercedes calls analog geometry and the digital world to create the “hyper analog” design that’s attractive and functional without overwhelming.

The instrument panel is fully digital and features the standard MBUX infotainment system with a choice of multiple display styles and different modes. The electrically adjustable AMG sports seats have a sculptural design. Mercedes fits the Roadster with its AIRSCARF neck-level heating system as standard to blow warm air into the passenger compartment from outlets in the head restraints of the seats for driver and passenger. The goal is to allow the owner to drop the top and enjoy fresh air even if it’s cold out.

Mercedes-AMG designed the body of the SL utilizing a completely new 2+2 seat vehicle architecture designed to be as lightweight as possible utilizing composite aluminum and an aluminum space frame with a self-supporting structure. In addition, the design of the chassis provides maximum rigidity for precision driving, comfort, and sporty proportions. No components of the body or structure of the car are carried over from the past generation SL or any other AMG model.

Compared to the previous SL series, the torsional rigidity of the body shell is 18 percent higher, transverse rigidity is 50 percent higher than the AMG GT Roadster, and longitudinal rigidity is 40 percent higher. The body shell alone weighs 595 pounds making a lightweight yet strong structure. Aerodynamics is also a focus for the vehicle design providing a drag coefficient of 0.31, which Mercedes says is excellent for an open-air sports car. For the first time, Mercedes has also integrated an AIRPANEL air control system with two pieces for improved aerodynamics. The first piece has vertical louvers hidden beneath the lower air intake in the front bumper. The second component is behind the upper air intake and has horizontal louvers. In normal operation, all louvers are closed, reducing drag allowing air to be directed to the car’s underbody, reducing front-end lift. However, when temperatures on predefined components reach a specific number and the car needs cooling air, louvers open to allow maximum cooling to the heat exchangers.

The rear spoiler is integrated into the trunk lid and is active, changing position depending on driving status. To determine the ideal position, software controlling the spoiler factors in driving speed, longitudinal and lateral acceleration, and steering speed. Considering all that data, the splitter can adjust through five different angular positions starting at 50 mph to optimize handling or reduce drag.

Buyers can choose the optional AMG Aerodynamics Package adding an active element hidden in the underbody in front of the engine to contribute to handling. The active element is a carbon profile weighing 4.4 pounds that reacts to AMG driving modes and extends downward to about 1.6 inches at 50 mph. The carbon profile component creates a Venturi effect to suck the car to the road surface and reduce front-axle lift. In addition, Mercedes AMG offers a range of aerodynamically optimized wheels in 20, or 21-inch diameters, including 20-inch wheels with plastic aero rings to save weight.

The SL also has a soft top optimized for lightweight and low center of gravity that replaces the previous metal vario roof. Moving back to a soft-top, Mercedes shaved 46 pounds and lowered the center of gravity for the all-new SL. Another interesting feature is that the soft top has a weight-saving z-fold mechanism that allowed Mercedes to dispense with a conventional soft-top compartment cover. The soft top is flush with the surface in its final position.

One of the highlights of any Mercedes-AMG vehicle is the engine. Mercedes-AMG continues with its “One Man, One Engine” principle with each SL engine built completely by one tech by hand. The SL offers two output levels of an AMG 4.0-liter V-8 biturbo engine. In the SL 63, which is the high-end model, the engine makes 577 horsepower and 590 pound-foot of torque. Fitted with that engine, the SL can reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. In the SL 55, the V-8 makes 469 horsepower and 516 pound-foot of torque. When fitted with that engine, the SL can reach 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. A performance hybrid version is in development.

Both engines are paired with an AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT 9G transmission featuring a wet start-off clutch that replaces the torque converter for lower weight and optimized response. Both SL models feature AMG Performance 4MATIC+ all-wheel-drive standard. The SL 55 has a newly developed AMG RIDE CONTROL steel suspension featuring aluminum shock absorbers and lightweight coil springs. This is also the first production Mercedes-AMG vehicle utilizing a multi-link front axle with five links that are arranged entirely inside the wheel rim. The SL 63 uses AMG ACTIVE RIDE CONTROL suspension with active hydraulic anti-roll stabilization debuting in the model.

Another first for the new SL is active rear-axle steering that can turn the rear wheels in the opposite direction of the front at certain speeds to improve handling. The SL has six different driving modes, including slippery, comfort, sport, sport+, individual, and race. The race mode is standard on the SL 63 and optional with the AMG DYNAMIC PLUS package for the SL 55. The SL 63 also has a standard AMG TRACK PACE data logging system for use on the racetrack, and the system is optional for the SL 55. The system can also be fitted with an optional dash cam to record video complete with overlaid data for lap times, speed, acceleration, and more. Pricing and availability on the new Mercedes-AMG SL are unannounced at this time.

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Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV combines efficiency and all-wheel drive

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Mitsubishi has premiered its redesigned plug-in hybrid Outlander crossover SUV. The Outlander PHEV will go on sale in Japan on December 16 and will land in Australia and New Zealand in the first half of 2022. Mitsubishi does plan on bringing the Outlander PHEV to North America in the second half of 2022.

Mitsubishi promises the crossover will have low CO2 emissions and a low environmental impact in terms of its lifecycle assessment. The all-new model has significant upgrades compared to previous versions. It utilizes a new PHEV system with more powerful road performance and a longer electric driving range.

Its all-wheel-drive system delivers safety and comfortable driving no matter the weather or road conditions. Mitsubishi also designed the vehicle with an attractive exterior and what it calls an “advanced, high-class interior.” The Outlander PHEV has an increase of about 40 percent total output for the front and rear electric motors and drive battery. That allows the model to drive in EV mode and avoid using the internal combustion engine as much as possible.

The system can operate on pure electricity even under hard acceleration. The drive battery has a total capacity of 20 kilowatts and delivers an all-electric range of 87 kilometers. Along with driving range, Mitsubishi promises optimized electric operation even with the air-conditioning on. Mitsubishi integrated a larger gas tank to expand the total driving range of the vehicle.

Outlander has a seven-passenger seating layout, and the control unit for the vehicle is outside the passenger compartment for improved quietness during use. The vehicle’s Super All Wheel Control vehicle dynamics control system is based on a twin-motor 4WD system with one drive motor in the front and another in the rear. The vehicle has seven drive modes, including Eco and Power. Mitsubishi promises that trim levels and pricing for the Outlander PHEV in the US will be announced closer to the on-sale date in the second half of 2022.

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The Rolls-Royce Black Badge Ghost is payoff from a high-stakes luxury gamble

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Back when Rolls-Royce unveiled the Ghost last year, it described the luxury sedan as “Post Opulent” design. Now, it’s giving the V12 car a sinister twist. The Black Badge Ghost joins the ranks of Rolls-Royce’s wildly successful Black Badge series, getting distinctive styling, an uptick in power, and a very particular appeal.

You could make a solid argument that Black Badge and Ghost really were made for each other. Both have proved to be wildly popular: Ghost may have launched in the midst of a global pandemic, but it was still Rolls-Royce’s most successful debut so far in terms of demand.

Similarly, though the automaker expected perhaps 10-15 percent of orders to be Black Badge models when it launched the sub-brand five years ago – and, indeed, faced some consternation that the customizations might dilute Rolls-Royce’s cachet – sales have significantly outpaced those conservative estimates. A full 40-percent of Cullinan SUVs are now ordered as Black Badge models, for example. Expectations for the Black Badge Ghost, then, are even higher.

The 6.75-liter V12 engine is kept, of course, but tuned for 591 horsepower and 664 lb-ft of torque. A “regular” Ghost offers 563 hp and 627 lb-ft. 0-60 mph arrives in 4.5 seconds, while top speed is an electronically-limited 155 mph. Not bad at all for a four-door which still tips the scales at almost 5,500 pounds.

Rolls-Royce has paired the extra power with retuning of the eight-speed transmission. Peak torque arrives at just 1,700 rpm; switch to Low Mode and the gearshifts are completed in half the time. There’s custom mapping for the front and rear axle steering, too, and bigger air springs to ensure the “magic carpet” ride keeps up with more enthusiastic drivers.

What first grabs you, of course, is the styling. The Ghost was off to a good start there, taking elements of Phantom and reimagining them for a smaller, more lithe sedan. The rear-hinged back doors, upright grille, and Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament remain, only now they’ve been paired with a darker, moodier palette of colors and finishes.

Though Rolls-Royce will happily complete your Black Badge Ghost in any of its paints, or indeed mix you up a custom hue, there’s also the “signature black” of the Black Badge label. Dubbed the auto industry’s darkest black, it’s a high-gloss finish that requires four craftspeople’s handiwork – a 3-5 hour job – after the final two layers of clear coat are applied. A pinstripe line – again, hand-applied – picks out the Ghost’s sharp creases along the hood and shoulder.

Dark chrome on the Spirit of Ecstasy, grille, and other brightwork tones down the glitter, and there are custom 21-inch wheels that are themselves something of an engineering marvel. Exclusive to the Black Badge Ghost, they start with a carbon fiber barrel – made up of 22 layers that are then doubled up for a 44 layer form – to which a 3D forged aluminum hub is attached with titanium fasteners.

Inside, popular features like the Shooting Star Starlight Headliner are kept, together with the glowing star-like motif that glitters in the dashboard. It’s paired here with custom timepieces for the Black Badge Ghost, and metal trim pieces given the same smoky finish as the exterior trim.

Time remains one of the Ghost’s big luxuries. The carbon fiber veneer, for example, first requires multiple wood layers be combined, with a top layer of black Bolivar; onto that, resin-coated carbon and contrasting metal-coated thread are applied, by hand, in a diamond pattern. Each part is cured for an hour, and then the whole thing is sand-blasted before six layers of lacquer are applied, hand-sanded, and polished.

Lashings of leather cover the rest of the surfaces, and while Black Badge cars typically feature a darker exterior color scheme, Rolls-Royce says its clients often go for something brighter and more striking inside. The technology remains surreptitious, with physical controls alongside twin displays for the infotainment system and driver instrumentation.

A standard Ghost begins at $393,500. The Black Badge Ghost package adds $43,850 to that, but then figure on spending more for the custom paint and other options. That might be plenty, but the order books are already open and Rolls-Royce says demand is already strong.

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