Photo from Newsweek Magazine

By: Razanne Chatila

A new industry has hit Africa. The mobile phone market in Africa is the fastest-growing in the world and for many industries it is being considered as the “last frontier with the potential for unlocked riches and luring global interest.” However, this is not a sure golden ticket to success but rather many industry leaders and analysts stated there are two important challenges they face. These include lowering prices for handsets and services and boosting a patchy network.

Nonetheless, the use of this technology is booming across the continent especially as landline networks are poorly developed and many individuals rely on mobile phones for financial transactions or to link to the Internet. Global consultants PwC said the number of mobile telephone subscriptions in Africa exploded from 16 million in 2000 to 246 million in 2008 and is more than 500 million now, with estimates of 600 million subscribers by 2016. To profit from cheaper calls many Africans have two SIM cards, which can change the data on the estimates of who actually has a mobile telephone.

Getting more mobile phones to individuals is what Chinese manufacturer Huawei did. Just this month they launched a new smartphone adapted for Africa called the 4Africka that runs on Microsoft’s Windows phone operating system with a four-inch screen.  The phone is expected to sell for less than $200 and is going to be launched in Angola, Egypt, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, and South Africa within the next month. The total investment in fixed and mobile networks in Africa according to PwC  is expected to rise from $78.8 billion in 2008 to $145.9 billion by 2015.

It is beyond just having a means of communication but in many rural areas it has become a tool. In Uganda, banana plant farmers use their mobile devices to track crop disease and communicate the latest scientific facts to other farmers. New companies are also developing applications specifically geared to the needs of that region such as agriculture focused apps. Although, Africans have never been avid telephone users and with most Africans living on $2 a day or less, many corporate investments in cellular networks far outside the more prosperous cities and towns saw this region as too poor. But the lack of resources is not stopping many citizens or companies from capitalizing on this new opportunity.

The Kenyan company Safaricom introduced M-KOPA, which is program that offers simple solar lighting equipment and a pay-as-you-go SIM card. Customers have one year to pay for the package, and after that they have free solar electricity. This allows over 80 percent of Kenyans to be able to charge their phones and still be able to afford lighting their homes. These innovate approaches are what is needed for this region. It is not a matter of not having the means to be technologically advanced, but rather it is about adapting this to the capabilities and resources of Africa. Communication is essential for development and these new technologies could be the pathway to a more prosperous future for many. 

 

This post reflects the author’s personal opinions, not the opinions of Arizona Model United Nations.

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