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Is the availability of Smart Phone in African going to improve Internet Penetration?

Internet Penetration is the portion of a particular population that is using Internet. This Internet can either be fixed or Mobile.

The population of Africa is estimated to be 1,037,524,058 but out of these people only 118,609,620, which is 11.4% of the population (the smallest in the world) can access Internet. Internet can be accessed by these people by means of the traditional and new forms, which include, office desktops(PCs) and laptops, home computers and Mobile hand held devices like Smart Phones. Internet is still distributed and transmitted to users by the Internet service providers through a mix of traditional and also new methods which include, Leased lines, ISDN lines, ADSL links, Broadband Wimax and WiFi, Mobile Dongles and satellite among others.

Although most of offices are trying to jump onto the wagon of Internet by availing Internet to each and every computer in the office, Internet usage at homes and in places of freedom is still limited. This is greatly attributed to either the limited distribution methods in homes, or the cost of acquiring the devices necessary in the usage of Internet at a personal level for homes and Mobile Internet usage.

Researchers are predicting that Mobile (smart phones) Internet will overtake office and cooperate (PC) Internet as means of accessing Internet in the near future.

Companies like Google are planning to reduce the cost of smart phones in Africa and other Phone companies like Nokia are encouraging economies in East Africa to remove taxes on Mobile phones to up mobile penetration and Mobile Internet penetration.

Although some people support the move, other people are looking at the other side of the coin. People against the move are wondering whether really when there are more Internet enabled hand held devices, we shall enjoy more Internet penetration. People have sighted a possibility of having these smart phones being used for only voice calls, which gives a very low utilization of the phone . There is also a possibility of these device producers looking for market of their products with out necessarily bringing up some thing for the sake of Africa.

Internet penetration is not only affected by the cost of ownership in Africa but also other factors like cost of production by the service providers also come into play. Most areas are not covered by the conventional Broadband Internet, which is only found in the capital cities and major towns of the African Countries.

According to your insight, do you think the move for African countries to reduce/remove import duties and other taxes on Internet enabled devices as a way of increasing the availability of smart phone, could allow higher Internet penetration in Africa?


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Comment by Mwende Njiraini on September 19, 2011 at 11:38am

Google expectes India Internet users to rise on cheap phones:

Google expectes India' Internet users to triple by 2014 as telecoms invest in the high-speed wireless infrastructure and smartphones become cheaper, a report said Friday.  Google's country head in Inida Rajan Anandan, told the Wall Street Journal that the firm forecasts Inida will reach at least 300million users by 2014, up from about 100million now.  With eight percent of its 1.2billion population online, India is the third largest Internet market by users, after China and the US.  "Despite a lot of the infrastructure challenges we have as a country, 100 million Inidans are online"
Comment by Mayengo Tom Kizito on September 15, 2011 at 9:59am

Thank you Mwende and Eric, for your views.

There is some complicated view coming up with Internet particularly in Uganda. Currently Internet (Wireless) is only accessible in central towns and major cities of the country. People at the level of Sub-districts is some major districts of the country still have Edge as the major connectivity level. Even with the availability of these smart phones, I would think that the demand that will be generated will not be enough to have Internet available in the far areas of the country. There is need for the governments mainly in the developing Africa to put up strategies of having Internet moving deeper to the villagegs. If we are going to have internet to improve farming, business we might need to have it in places where these activities have roots (villages), but this is not a one man's game (Service Providers). With no power, limited security, no road network to get these places, and power investment economic environment, I believe Internet Penetration is still a dream in poor Africa.

Thank your..... still this is my opinion.

Comment by Mwende Njiraini on September 14, 2011 at 4:31pm

Thank you, Tom.


Mobile telephony has indeed improved internet penetration in Africa. Kenya’s population stands at about 36.8million and the 2009 census indicated that 3.6% of households own at least one computer while 63.2% of households own at least a mobile phone.  Internet penetration in the country has been improved by the availability of cheaper internet-enabled mobile phones (priced as low as $15), low prices of internet and SMS bundles as well as popularity of Face Book and Twitter. 

I am therefore of the opinion that voice will remain the ‘killer application’ in mobile telephony in Africa for various reasons.  In Kenya for example on-net voice tariffs have fallen to as low as $0.01 per min fuelled by price wars among mobile operators.  This has increase the volume of voice traffic on mobile networks supported by the adult population who have higher disposable income.

This is in contrast to Internet access on mobile phones that is popular with the younger generation, who account for about 70% of the Kenyan population.  This age bracket has little disposable income and thus does not generate high data traffic volumes compared to voice.

In addition most subscribers are interested in value added services such as mobile money transfer, SMS news alerts, content, and promotions.  Again these services are used mainly by which has higher disposable income.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post except those quoted or referenced are the author’s own

Comment by Eric Kamara on September 13, 2011 at 10:19pm
I tend to disagree with those are say that with more Internet enabled hand held devices we shall not enjoy a higher level of Internet penetration. Granted, the ability to access the Internet is affected by a number of different factors(such as illiteracy) but I still believe that one of the biggest barriers to internet access in Africa is the cost of the devices to access the Internet. I therefore welcome any initiative that looks to address this barrier.



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