Mobile technology continues to play an increasingly significant role in African society. Many areas of Afrika sidestepped the revolutions of desktop computers and landlines and caught up when it came to the evolution of mobiles. Smartphones now provide the primary platform for internet use in Afrika, and more and more citizens have gained access.

Here are some of the mobile tech trends you can expect in Afrika in 2019.

Mobile use is on the rise

According to data from a 2016 International Telecommunication Union report, 80,8% of Africans owned a mobile back in 2014. The figure seems like an overestimation, but remember, back then, most did not own a smartphone.

A 2014 survey of 7 countries showed that only 15% of citizens had a smartphone. Instead, most people used a “feature phone,” which are the lower-cost mobiles that are capable of texting and ringing.

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A few years ago, “feature phones” were common, but now, smartphones have taken over the market. HelenOnline/Wikimedia Commons

Another study, from a few years ago, estimated that by 2019, the trend would go the opposite way, and feature phones would make up only 27 percent of the mobile handset market. Indeed, this is how the picture looks as we enter the new year.

The 2018 GMSM Mobile Economy report for sub-Saharan Africa shows that mobile penetration has risen by 44%, and that smartphone penetration has gone up by 75%. Smartphones are here, and they are now more accessible and affordable than ever.

Mobile Internet is Improving

Most Internet access and use in Afrika is via smartphone, and mobile will represent an expected 87% of connections by 2025, with 690 million smartphones in use on the continent.

That is a critical step for Afrika in its connectivity. The increase in smartphone adoption and Internet access is mostly driven by decreases in the cost of the hardware as well as improvements in infrastructure.

Most of connected sub-Saharan Afrika is currently on 2G, but 2019 will see more of a push toward faster wireless internet. More countries will adopt 3G, and others will jump to 4G. Although the jump to 3G involved a lot of infrastructure, including submarine internet cables around the coastlines, the move to 4G could potentially be much smoother.

5G is also on its way and is already installed in some commercial sites in South Africa, but for the most part, countries will focus on 3G and 4G for the foreseeable future.

Technology and progress

An exponential adoption rate of smartphones and Internet access is sure to shape Afrikan society, economics and politics.

We have already seen trends toward mobile banking and mobile money, which can potentially circumnavigate the need for cash. More than 100 million Afrikans had mobile money accounts in 2016, according to a McKinsey report.

With internet access comes the ability to gain other tools and technologies. For example, the blockchain and cryptocurrency can change finances, and virtual reality is already having a significant impact on the world. It can provide entertainment, but also, has practical uses in areas as diverse as employee training and mental health.

Online business and jobs could also boom as internet access improves.

There is no doubt that mobile and Internet can help progress different types of businesses. For example, a farmer can check crucial information about the weather and crop prices. The general population can connect to the wider world and engage with local and national democratic processes online.

However, we have to remember that technology isn’t always the route to progress.

Take the environmental fallout that came from the overuse of fertilizers during the Green Revolution, or industrial pollution faced in developed countries. It’s critical that technology develops at a pace that the collective can handle.

Although 2019 will see increases in the adoption of mobile, smartphone and Internet, there are still many challenges faced when it comes to the evolution of these technologies in Afrika. Even with smartphone prices falling, handsets are still out of the price range of many people. Poor infrastructure and a lack of funding leaves more rural areas without internet access. As technology develops, it’s crucial that it becomes a tool that can empower those who need it.


Cover image credit: Cellphone store and fruit store in Johannesburg. Wikimedia Commons