Mobile Internet is becoming one of the most widely-used methods of connectivity worldwide and the vehicle for such connectivity is smartphones for many. This is due to advances in technology that have allowed for mobile phones to stand in place of desktop or laptop computers in areas of the world where Internet connectivity is a more recent adoption. Despite the benefits that Internet connectivity can provide, access to mobile Internet and smartphones varies across Sub-Saharan Africa as well as across the globe. In this post, we will discuss the prominence of smartphones for mobile Internet connectivity, across the globe and in Sub-Saharan Africa, by consulting data from various studies conducted on the topic.

Mobile Internet Spread in Sub-Saharan Africa

Mobile Internet connectivity is strong—yet sporadic—in Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning certain populations have more penetration than others. For example, in SSA overall, there is a 23% penetration rate of mobile Internet users while Kenya’s penetration rate of mobile Internet users is at 83%. Nigeria is another area in SSA where mobile Internet penetration is high, while South Sudan is an example of a country that has not yet made such significant moves toward mass adoption of mobile Internet. The highs and lows of penetration rates in SSA fight each other when averaged so it is important to look at the populations in SSA individually to identify growth potential and thriving markets.

The spread throughout SSA of mobile Internet accessibility varies due to a handful of factors. Investment by telecoms impacts the accessibility and affordability of mobile Internet services, for example. Reliance on mobile money rather than physical cash can also guide more people in specific populations into prioritizing the monthly payments for data plans. Similarly, there are populations of people in SSA that are still new to mobile phones that have less access to the latest in technology, like rural populations. While there certainly has been substantial growth in mobile Internet usage, it will still take time before Internet connectivity is in the palms of everyone in SSA.

Smartphone Usage in Sub-Saharan Africa

Access of mobile Internet via smartphones

More than 90% of the population in SSA was covered by 2G networks at the end of 2017 and six new 4G networks launched in the first half of 2018. As such, GSMA estimates that there are presently 120 such networks in the region and they state that these new networks combined with the market of cheaper smartphones help drive the transition to mobile broadband in this region. Future projections are that 3G will account for 60% of all mobile connections by 2025.

Notable demographics

“Future growth opportunities will increasingly be concentrated in rural and low-ARPU (average revenue per user) markets, as well as younger demographic groups,” GSMA noted in their most recent report. As we discussed above, accessibility and affordability are large aspects in the growth of both smartphone and mobile Internet adoption. Younger populations that are opportunities for growth for smartphone use are also important to remember because Africa’s population is so young. “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.”

Global Mobile Internet and Smartphones Usage

Mobile Internet Penetration

GSMA predicts that the global penetration rate of mobile Internet will be 61% of the population in 2025, versus the 43% that it was in 2017. This means a jump from 3.3 billion users in 2017, to 5.5 billion in 2025.

Present Day Mobile Internet Statistics

The prediction for 2025 of mobile Internet users topping five billion begs the question, where are we are today. As it sits, China has the highest number of mobile Internet users in the world, followed by India. In both countries, there’s a prominent link between urban populations and the usage of mobile Internet. Coming in third is the US, followed by Brazil. Oddly enough, Japan ranks fifth despite being the birthplace of the world’s first mobile Internet service, iMode back in the 1990s. Overall, there are currently over 3.5 billion mobile Internet subscribers worldwide, which represents about 47% of the world’s population.

Mobile Internet Penetration GloballyGlobal Usage Growth of Smartphones

Today, it is estimated that more than 5 billion people have mobile devices. To put into perspective the rate of growth of smartphone users among mobile phone users, a median of 80% owned a mobile phone and only 27% owned a smartphone as recently as 2015. Over the course of the last three years, mobile phone ownership has held a steady growth rate, yet smartphones have taken a substantially larger share of mobile owners. Now, over half of mobile phone ownership is held by smartphones. Those smartphones accounted for 57% of connections to the Internet in 2017 and are predicted to top 77% of connections to the Internet if 2025.

General Summary

Smartphone and mobile Internet usage have, and will continue to, grow all across the globe. With smartphones being the primary source of connection to the Internet globally, the necessity of the devices will only become more demanding in years to come. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are populations that are farther along in their adoption process than others, yet the process is moving rapidly. SSA is definitely a region to watch as the race to increase global mobile Internet penetration continues, especially as the youth in Africa come-of-age.

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