Mobile subscription in Africa has continued to show impressive growth over the last few quarters. According to Ericsson’s latest Mobility report, mobile subscriptions in the region accounted for more than 20% of the global net additions recorded during the first quarter of the year.
South Africa notably had the third-highest net additions globally after adding about 2 million new mobile subscriptions. India had the most net additions with 26 million, followed by China with 6 million.
Nigeria was missing from the lineup despite being Africa’s most populous country. It instead lost about 12 million subscribers during the same period, according to the country’s regulator.
However, the report shows that the total net addition of mobile subscriptions was generally low at 59 million likely due to the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions.
Mobile broadband subscriptions on the rise
Despite the low addition during the quarter, total mobile subscriptions globally have reached around 8 billion. The report forecasts that mobile broadband will probably push to about 8.8 billion by the end of 2026.
In terms of unique mobile subscribers, Ericsson projects growth from a total of 5.9 billion in Q1 2021 to 6.5 billion at the end of 2026.
This growth is expected to be driven by the rise of smartphone penetration and subscriptions associated with smartphone accounts.
5G network coverage rising faster than 4G
Despite the uncertainty and economic instability caused by COVID-19, service providers continue to switch on 5G and more than 160 have launched commercial 5G services.
The has led to the speed of 5G uptake being far higher than it was for 4G, let alone 3G. data from the report show that 5G subscriptions with a 5G-capable device grew by 70 million during the first quarter, to reach around 290 million.
4G subscriptions on the other hand increased by approximately 100 million, exceeding 4.6 billion, equaling 58 percent of all mobile subscriptions.
Some key factors that have led to the growth of 5G include China’s earlier engagement with 5G compared to 4G, as well as the timely availability of devices from several vendors.
Apple, Samsung and several other smartphone makers already have 5G enabled devices.
Another is the new addition of gaming passes, packages sold as add-ons to regular data subscriptions that are appealing to gamers by promoting 5G and low-latency experiences.
5G subscription uptake is expected to be faster than that of 4G following the latter’s launch in 2009. It is estimated to reach 1 billion 2 years earlier than 4G.
5G users to surpass half a billion globally by end of 2021
Looking at the current growth rate among other factors, Ericsson estimates that there will be close to 580 million 5G subscriptions by the end of 2021 and 3.5 billion globally by 2026.
4G on the other hand was projected to peak during the year at 4.8 billion subscriptions before declining to around 3.9 billion subscriptions by the end of 2026 as more subscribers migrate to 5G.
Despite the drop, the report points out that 4G will remain the dominant mobile access technology by subscription over the next 5 years.
5G growth stalls in Africa
Currently, North East Asia has the highest 5G subscription penetration, followed by North America, Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Western Europe.
However, it is projected that North America will have the highest share of 5G subscriptions of all regions at 84 percent by 2026.
Of all the regions, Africa is one of the few yet to see significant 5G presences. Although there are have been a few test runs and launches, its reach wasn’t enough as the region was marked as 0 using its ranking parameters.
However, Ericsson forecasts 5G subscriptions in sub-Saharan Africa to hit 7% in 2026. The Middle East and North Africa region have a better project of 15% during the same forecast period.
Some of the factors expected to drive growth in the region are the uptick of mobile broadband subscriptions driven by a young, growing population with increasing digital skills and more affordable smartphones.
More African countries should be ranking high in mobile adoption because of the huge mobile market that is yet untapped in the region. The fact that some countries aren’t ranking high means a large number of people aren’t adapting quickly enough.
However, this may soon change.
in the long term, traffic is expected to grow even higher driven by both the rising number of smartphone subscriptions and an increasing average data volume per subscription, fueled primarily by more viewing of video content.
Similarly, massive IoT technologies are on the rise and are forecasted to make up 46 percent of all cellular IoT connections.
The growth of 5G caps it all as a sign of an industry that tirelessly continues to drive innovation and bring new technology to the market, some of which the region will benefit greatly from.