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Ericsson: Sub-Saharan Africa will have 1B mobile subs by 2028

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Sub-Saharan Africa's mobile subscriptions are expected to top 1 billion by 2028, up from 900 million in 2022 and growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3%.

That's according to the June 2023 edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report which also showed great potential for 5G growth in Africa over the next few years.

"Despite the challenging macroeconomic environment, nations in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to invest in network infrastructure, driven by a large youthful population and a high demand for connectivity," Ericsson said.

This will also enable new growth opportunities for service providers, driven by advanced mobile data and fintech value-added services like mobile banking and payments.

5G growth looking up

Ericsson estimates that sub-Saharan Africa had 3 million 5G subscriptions at the end of 2022 and this would rise to 140 million by 2028, accounting for 13% of total connections in the region.

In its previous Ericsson Mobility Report from November 2022, it had estimated higher numbers, with 5G subscriptions forecast to reach 7 million in 2022 and grow to 150 million by the end of 2028.

Ericsson believes that in sub-Saharan Africa 5G will have the fastest growth rate in subscriptions by 2028, attributed primarily to coming from a low base.

Mobile subscriptions by region and technology (percent)
(Source: Ericsson Mobility Report June 2023.)

In comparison, by the end of 2028, there will be around 290 million 5G subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, accounting for 32% of total mobile subscriptions, as more countries issue licenses and spectrum to enable 5G network investment.

More than 10 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have launched commercial 5G networks to date, with more planned.

The most recent was QCell's commercial 5G launch in The Gambia in June 2023 and Vodacom Mozambique's 5G launch in May 2023.

4G grows & 2G maintains relevance

Growth in 4G is expected to continue and 4G will be the main contributor to new subscriptions up to 2028, accounting for more than half (55%) of all mobile subscriptions at the end of the period.

The focus will continue to be on 4G and 5G, driven by the exploration of service offerings requiring high bandwidth and low latency, and the availability of a wide range of devices at attractive price points, researchers said.

While 2G remains an important technology in the region due to low-priced devices, affordability of service plans and a large number of rural subscribers, 2G subscriptions are projected to continuously decline between now and the end of 2028, at which point they will account for 29% of total subscriptions.

Mobile financial services are expected to continue to gain momentum in Africa, with an increase in mobile connectivity and expansion of propositions from basic transfers.

Merchant payments, remittances, insurance and other services will also be factors to increase the usage of mobile financial services in sub-Saharan Africa.

Data traffic grows

Sub-Saharan Africa is forecast to be the region with the highest growth in total mobile data traffic, rising by 37% annually between 2022 and 2028 as service providers across the continent continue to invest in 4G networks and migrate customers from 2G and 3G.

This increase in data traffic will primarily be driven by a four-times increase in smartphone traffic in the period, with average data per active smartphone settling at 19GB per month in 2028, up from 4.7GB per month in 2022.

Mobile data traffic per smartphone (GB per month)
(Source: Ericsson Mobility Report June 2023.)

Meanwhile, smartphone subscriptions in the region were at 410 million in 2022 and are expected to grow to 690 million by 2028.

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*Top image source: Image by Freepik.

Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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