Technology | Media | Telecommunications

Friday, September 26, 2008

Africa is the Final Frontier for Mobile Phones

When world's predicted four-billionth mobile phone subscription comes before the end of 2008, it will have taken just five full quarters for the latest billion net additions.

The engine for this rapid growth has been the tremendous consumer demand seen in emerging markets, such as China and India, where in each of these countries there have been over 50 million new mobile subscriptions in the last six months alone -- as well as significant growth in markets such as Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan and Brazil.

The rise of global mobile subscription numbers is set to slow, with Informa Telecoms and Media's forecast suggesting the five billionth subscription will be signed during 4Q 2011, with worldwide penetration reaching in excess of 70 percent by this time.

Only in Africa will penetration at the end of 2011 still be below 50 percent.

"It is clear that the mobile industry will see a slowdown in growth -- it is simply untenable for the extraordinary growth witnessed over the last 18 months to continue," says Informa Principal Analyst, Nick Jotischky.

Even taking the fastest growing regions of Asia Pacific and Africa into account, where we will see well over 20 percent year-on-year growth in subscription numbers this year, Informa's forecast suggest that this growth rate will slow to below 10 percent in 2010.

Facing the reality of this slowdown in growth, the world's largest mobile operators are broadening, and in some cases reconsidering their strategic thinking. Informa's report studies the parallel business lines being assumed by the likes of Vodafone, China Mobile and Telenor.

On the one hand, the extension of basic mobile connectivity to new lower-income groups remains central to their strategic direction, but increasingly so too is the accelerating collision of broadband Internet and mobility.

"Mobile broadband services, and in particular the evolution of HSPA, have reinvented the business case for 3G technologies and as a result mobile Internet services are helping to provide operators with new business streams, particularly within higher-income groups," Jotischky explains.

Emerging markets are no longer quite as attractive as they once were as the race to extend rural network coverage has given the ultimate challenge to operators -- how best to reach out to low income groups and still make a profit. It is no longer just about the quantity of subscriptions, but also the value that can be attributed to these subscriptions.