The mobile industry plans to invest more than $50-billion in sub-Saharan Africa over the next five years, providing coverage to more than 90% of the population.
This investment will be used to extend the reach of GSM mobile networks and enhance them with GPRS, Edge and HSPA technologies to provide a rich suite of mobile multimedia services that will include Internet access.
This information was revealed today by the GSM Association (GSMA) at the Connect Africa summit in Rwanda, based on investment plans released by MTN, Orange, Vodacom and Celtel.
Since sub-Saharan governments began liberalising their telecommunication sectors at the turn of the millennium, the GSMA estimates that the mobile industry has invested $35-billion, providing more than 500-million people (67% of the population) in sub-Saharan Africa with mobile coverage.
"This surge in investment by the mobile industry has changed the lives of millions of Africans, catalysing economic development and strengthening social ties," says Rob Conway, CEO of the GSMA.
MTN, Orange, Vodacom and Zain subsidiary Celtel are among the mobile operators planning to invest heavily in the expansion and enhancement of their networks.
There are more than 150-million mobile subscribers in sub-Saharan Africa today. However, a further 350-million people have mobile coverage and are not yet directly connected.
As well as extending coverage, the mobile industry is focused on using its economies of scale to connect these people.
As the number of users grows, so too will economic prosperity. The GSMA estimates that an increase of 10% points in mobile penetration can increase the annual growth rate of GDP by up to 1,2 percentage points.
In order to create the conditions that will maximise the benefit of this new investment, the GSMA calls on governments across sub-Saharan Africa to remove barriers to enterpreneurship.
"Individuals and companies create wealth, not governments. This is not to say that the state should become invisible. But governments should see their roles as enablers of business, and not gatekeepers that control and hamper it."
In particular, African governments need to ensure that sufficient spectrum is available to enable the hundreds of millions of Africans, who live beyond the reach of today's fixed networks, to gain access to cost-effective broadband services.
The GSMA believes the World Radiocommunication Conference, currently meeting in Geneva, needs to reserve the 750MHz to 862MHz spectrum band for mobile broadband services in Europe, Middle East and Africa. In this spectrum band, radio waves can travel significant distances and provide better in-building signals, helping operators to achieve more extensive and cost-effective mobile broadband coverage, particularly in rural areas.
"The world's governments have an opportunity to narrow the digital divide between those who enjoy high-speed access to multimedia services today and the many people who can't yet be economically served by broadband networks," says Tom Phillips, chief government & regulatory affairs officer of the GSMA. "It is important that the world's governments set aside this spectrum in a harmonised way, enabling handset makers to achieve economies of scale, thereby reducing the cost of access devices for consumers."
African Governments also need to address other barriers to the uptake of mobile communications, such as high consumer taxes, the summit heard.
Mobile-specific taxes are levied in Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia; if these were lowered or removed, government tax receipts would actually increase as more people will connect and use mobile services, boosting Value Added Tax receipts and stimulating wider economic activity.
High license fees and other regulatory bottlenecks, such as international gateway monopolies, constrain the competitiveness of African business.