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
- Three-quarters of the population have a SIM connection. That translates to 747 million people.
- However, mobile subscriber penetration is just 44 percent, well behind a global average of 66 percent.
- Despite this, with 444 million mobile subscribers, the region is home to nearly nine percent of all global mobile subscriptions.
- Around a third of mobile users, 250 million, have a smartphone.
- 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.
- Mobile broadband is currently available to two-thirds of the regional population.
- That means 400 million people in the region cannot access mobile broadband services at present, due to a lack of coverage.
- 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.
- Getting online is expensive. Purchasing a handset and 500MB of data costs an average 10 percent of monthly income.
- At the end of 2017, there were 135 live mobile money services found in 39 countries across the region, with 122 million active accounts.
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.
- By 2025 mobile broadband will account for 87 percent of mobile connections. The current figure for these services is 38 percent.
- 3G will account for 60 percent of all mobile connections by 2025.
- Nearly 300 million new subscribers are expected to access the mobile internet in the next seven years.
- Active SIM connections are predicted to hit one billion in 2025, up from 747 million today.
- Subscriber numbers are expected to account for half the population in 2023, rising to 52 percent in 2025.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
Previous and related coverage
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Nissan gives its new Note e-POWER a smart hybrid upgrade
Nissan has revealed its newest electrified model, with the 2020 Note e-POWER tapping the second-generation of the automaker’s gas-electric hybrid drivetrain. Headed to Japanese dealerships next month, the new Note previews some of the new Nissan design language we’re expecting to see on the all-electric Ariya crossover next year.
Unlike the Ariya, however, the e-POWER system in the 2020 Note isn’t entirely electric. Instead it relies on electric drive for the wheels, but a gas engine that’s brought along to act as a mobile generator. With e-POWER cars, the combustion engine isn’t directly connected to the wheels, but Nissan can also use a smaller – thus lighter and cheaper – battery than in an all-electric model like the Leaf.
Now in its second-generation, in the case of this new Note the e-POWER system has a more powerful motor and an improved inverter. The motor gets 10-percent more torque and 6-percent greater output, Nissan says, for improved perkiness from a standing start. It should also be smoother in acceleration, and quieter in the cabin.
As for the inverter, that’s 40-percent smaller than the old model, and 30-percent lighter. Combined with a more efficient gas engine, e-POWER as a whole is more economical; Nissan says it also should be quieter, since the engine runs at a lower RPM than before, and requires fewer engagements. Nissan even tracks road noise to decide when to turn the gas engine on, picking times when background sounds from the road surface conditions and vehicle speed are louder.
There’ll be both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions of the car, the latter using a second electric motor. Both have a new aesthetic which Nissan is calling “Timeless Japanese Futurism”: think a bigger grille, lots of “V”-shaped style elements, and sharper crease lines. LED projector lamps are used at the front, while 16-inch alloy wheels are standard.
Inside, there are Nissan’s favorite Zero Gravity seats, with larger armrests. The rear bench gets reclining seat-backs. A new dashboard design features a larger digital display, and options like wireless phone charging and ProPILOT with Navi-link. That taps the navigation system to monitor for upcoming bends on the highway, and automatically adjust the adaptive cruise control settings appropriately.
What we shouldn’t expect, though, is the new Note e-POWER in the US. Nissan decided to discontinue sales of the model here in favor of the Kicks crossover, and shows no indication of changing that decision even with this new version. Pricing will kick off in Japan at just over $19k, but while we may not get the new Note, it’s likely that more e-POWER models will make it to the US.
2021 Mercedes-Benz Metris returns with better safety features and more standard kit
The 2021 Mercedes-Benz Metris is returning next year with a bevy of new standard kit. Also known as the Vito, V-Class, or Viano in some markets, the Metris is a tad smaller than the full-size Sprinter van, but it’s significantly larger than other midsize vans like the Ford Transit Connect, Ram ProMaster City, and Nissan NV200.
New for the 2021 Metris is Mercedes-Benz’s 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic gearbox, which is now standard across all variants. It replaces the old seven-speed auto shifter of the outgoing model, and it still comes with Dynamic Select driving programs like Sport and Comfort modes. Additionally, the new gearbox has a new manual mode, and you can toggle between the gears using the standard steering-mounted paddle shifters.
All variants of the 2021 Mercedes-Benz Metris remain powered by a turbocharged and direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine – the same as the outgoing model. It still produces 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, sending power to the rear wheels via its new nine-speed transmission.
Similar to the outgoing model, the new Metris will be sold in two wheelbase options. The standard variant has a 126-inch wheelbase, while the longer versions have a stretched 135-inch wheelbase. Meanwhile, the passenger variant has the same 126-inch wheelbase as the base cargo version and can be fitted with up to eight seats.
As such, the Metris can be optioned with a myriad of door and window configurations including a sliding passenger door, swing-out rear doors, and a rear liftgate. The cargo variant can be fitted with an optional plastic floor while some models have wooden floors. Regardless, the load compartment comes fitted with lashing rails on the sidewall and interior panels. The floor even has a rail system for easier load anchoring.
Style-wise, the new Metris is different from the outgoing model with a new front grille and optional painted bumpers. Customers have the option of choosing a chromed front grille with shiny louvers for a distinctive and more refined look. The expanded range of paint hues now includes two shades of gray (Graphite Gray and Selenite Gray) and a new Steel Blue paint job.
As expected from a Mercedes-Benz, the 2021 Metris is loaded with advanced safety kit. Standard equipment includes attention assist, headlamp assist, crosswind assist, tire pressure monitoring, trailer brake control, and hill start assist. For the first time, active brake assist and active distant assist DISTRONIC is available, while all trim models receive a digital rearview mirror for better rear visibility even when fully loaded with cargo or passengers.
Inside, Metris has a restyled dashboard with new ‘turbine’ air vents. The seat materials are also new, while the driver gets to fiddle with a 7-inch infotainment touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Bluetooth connectivity. Meanwhile, the popular Metris Getaway Camper Van has privacy curtains, a pop-top roof, an integrated table, and optional solar panels among many others.
You can expect the new Mercedes-Benz Metris van to arrive at U.S. dealerships in mid-2021. Pricing will be announced next year, but we’re expecting the new Metris to cost more than its direct competitors in exchange for better versatility and enhanced refinement.
2021 Mercedes-Benz Metris Gallery
Porsche Taycan sets a Guinness World Record for drifting
Porsche has set a Guinness World Record for the longest drift using an electric vehicle. The EV the sports car maker used to set the record was the popular Porsche Taycan. The record was set at the Porsche Experience Center Hockenheimring.
Porsche instructor Dennis Retera did 210 laps drifting around a 200 meter-long drift circle to set the record. For the entire 210 laps, the front wheels never pointed in the same direction as the curve. After spending 55 minutes sideways around the track, the driver covered 42.171 kilometers.
That distance was enough to allow Retera to grab the world record for the longest continuous drift in an electric car. His average speed was 46 km/h, and a rear-wheel-drive Taycan was used, which is already available in China. Porsche did have to switch the driving stability program off and says that drifting the car was very easy once that was turned off.
The driver says that the vehicle had sufficient power to move around the circle sideways and was stable thanks to its low center of gravity and long wheelbase. Retera is currently the Chief Instructor at the Porsche Experience Center Hockenheimring. Previously, he was a competitor in carting, single-seat racecars, and endurance racing.
He says that it was tiring to keep his concentration high for 210 laps. He also said that the wet asphalt of the drip circuit doesn’t give the same grip everywhere, so he concentrated on controlling the drift with steering rather than the accelerator pedal to reduce the risk of spinning. Guinness World Record official Joanne Brent meticulously documented the record attempt. She’s been supervising record attempts for Guinness World Records for over five years. The video above shows parts of the record-setting run.
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