By the end of the decade, there will be more than half a billion mobile subscribers in the region, up from 420 million at the end of 2016.
Among the growth drivers is the under-16 age group, which accounts for more than 40 percent of the population in many countries, and women, who are currently 17 percent less likely to have a mobile phone subscription than their male counterparts.
Mobile is now also a significant contributor to the sub-Saharan African economy. In 2016, mobile technologies and services generated $110bn of economic value, equivalent to 7.7 percent of regional GDP.
This figure is expected to grow to $142bn, or 8.6 percent of GDP, by 2020. The mobile ecosystem also employed about 3.5 million in the region last year, and contributed $13bn to the public sector through taxes.
Here are some of the key trends industry group GSMA has observed:
Across Africa, mobile is transforming traditional industries and enabling innovative business models to deliver affordable and sustainable services.
Perhaps one of the best examples is mobile money, which has been critical in advancing financial inclusion over the last decade. There are now 140 live mobile money services in 39 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for nearly 280 million registered accounts.
Today, more than 40 percent of the adult population in seven countries – Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe – use mobile money regularly.
Utilities are another area where mobile is driving innovation. Mobile-based, pay-as-you-go solar enables access to clean energy solutions, with entrepreneurs partnering with mobile operators to deliver the solution.
Growing by nearly 40,000 systems per month, there are now one million home systems installed globally. Some 95 per cent are in sub-Saharan Africa, impacting about 4.8 million people.
We see similar innovation in sectors such as healthcare, agriculture and others. This is just the beginning as we move forward in Africa’s digital age.
Local mobile operators have invested $37bn in their networks over the past five years, mainly to deploy new 3G/4G mobile broadband networks across the region.
Fuelled by growing access to mobile data services and smart devices, the local mobile ecosystem is flourishing, supported by investments from operators and others in mobile-focused start-ups and tech hubs.
Seventy-seven tech start-ups across the region raised almost $370m in funding in 2016, up 33 percent from the previous year.
However, this continued growth and investment is not a given. The mobile industry faces several challenges, such as high levels of taxation and outdated regulatory frameworks.
Positive collaboration is needed between governments and the mobile industry to enable innovation and extend connectivity to all.
Looking beyond the numbers, mobile is positively impacting African society and helping to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in time for the 2030 deadline.
Mobile operators across Africa are working together to deploy mobile-enabled solutions to deliver key services such as health and education, increase women’s access to mobile, create employment opportunities and decrease poverty.
Of course, the mobile industry cannot solve the challenges of the SDGs alone – no one can. Governments, industry, humanitarian organisations and individuals must come together to build sustainable partnerships.
Having just visited Tanzania and witnessed much of this first-hand, I am struck again by the power of mobile to foster innovation, to fuel economies and to transform lives across Africa.