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Mobile Communications Enables New Growth in Africa

The cellular mobile communications market continues to attract new subscribers within the African continent -- which in turn is helping to fuel regional and local socioeconomic development.

In 3Q-2012, the continent's 54 countries and 1.08 billion people have accumulated 821 million mobile network subscriptions -- that's up 16.9 percent year-on-year, resulting in a cellular subscription penetration of 76.4 percent.

In the first quarter of 2013, it's now forecast that cellular phone penetration will eclipse 80 percent, according to the latest market study by ABI Research.

Given the fact that a significant percentage of prepaid phone users maintain more than one active prepaid mobile subscription to minimize interconnection charges, there is still subscriber growth to be had.

"While Western Europe languishes with barely positive overall growth quarter-on-quarter, Africa managed to generate 4.2 percent growth in the same period," said Marina Lu, research associate at ABI Research.

Subscriptions are still very much dominated by voice communications and text messaging in the form of GSM, with 62.7 percent penetration.

Moreover, 3G subscriptions -- both CDMA2000 and WCDMA -- only represent 11 percent of the overall African market, while 27 percent of the market still relies on 2.5G access technologies for mobile data access.

Given the lack of access to credit card and banking facilities, the vast majority of subscriber's access mobile phone services through prepaid. In South Africa, prepaid ratios for the mobile network operators range from 70 to 86 percent.

But within most other countries on the African continent, prepaid ratios stand at over 95 percent, if not close to 99 percent.

The top seven service providers of the region are:

MTN Nigeria - 43.2 million subscriptions
Vodacom - 37.7 million subscriptions
Vodafone Egypt - 37.5 million subscriptions
MobiNil - 32.4 million subscriptions
MTN South Africa - 23.5 million subscriptions
Etisalat Misr - 22.9 million subscriptions
Glo Mobile - 22.0 million subscriptions

The cellular market in Africa is expected to grow to 1.12 billion by 2017, contributing 13.9 percent to the global cellular market that will rise to to 8.11 billion.

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