Written by Yaron Assabi, CEO of Digital Solutions Group
According to The Economist,in the past decade six of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies were in Africa. Investors are flooding into the continent from all corners of the world as the untapped business opportunities in Africa become more apparent. And while mining and oil remain high on the local business agenda, infrastructure investment, the consumer market, and ICT have become ‘hotbeds’ of activity.
In the middle of this mobile explosion, Africa has overtaken Asia Pacific as the world's fastest-growing region in terms of cellular connections. Mobile phones have become increasingly sophisticated featuring applications that revolutionise the way we live and work. IBM has estimated that by the end of 2012, there will be an estimated 735 million mobile subscribers in Africa.
Smartphones and internet-enabled feature phones are providing a platform for innovation and creativity that allows for new opportunities for business growth in Africa. Let’s examine how some of these platforms have transformed the continent.
Mobile phones are providing people who cannot afford computers, access to the Internet. Connectivity is the basis of all communications and has helped bring Africa to the rest of the world. Farmers are able to get tips on when to plant their crops and when the next rainfall will be. Business owners can decide when or where to sell their goods by researching the market conditions. Oxford University is even using mobile technology to help improve access to water in rural communities by using ‘smart hand pumps’. Many rural communities rely on hand pumps to receive water and they often break or are left unrepaired. In August this year, a pilot project will be undertaken to install data transmitters that work by sending a message to the national water managers, so that they may know where faulty pumps are. This type of connectivity is empowering people and creating a better standard of living that previously did not exist.
Mobile phones can provide real-time advice and diagnosis to people who do not have access to doctors. There has been a variety of mobile health (m-health) projects on the continent. These mobile applications and platforms can monitor disease outbreaks and provide diagnosis and treatment to users all over Africa.
Mobile banking was born in Africa and used for the first time in Kenya. It creates new jobs and business opportunities, promotes entrepreneurship, and brings a better life to people all over the continent. In the past, the unbanked were forced to rely on carrying cash, but now they have the option to transfer money more securely via their mobile phones giving them peace of mind that they can transfer cash to family when and where needed. The growth has not only bridged geographical divides, but has helped overcome challenges of inequality and restrictions to access valuable information and services.
M-learning enabled by wireless access, offers new opportunities for engaging learners. It is convenient, collaborative and instantaneous learning. MXit, the popular chat application, created an app “Dr Math” which has allowed tutors to support students over their mobile phones. The possibilities for M-learning are endless and can help to overcome problems of textbooks being unavailable, lack of electricity and poor infrastructure in classes. M-learning can also be used by teachers and tutors in a variety of ways including quizzes, tests, learning games and peer-support.
Smartphones have led this revolution by allowing the continent to meet the rest of the world. And they are becoming more affordable with some smartphones costing as little as $100. TNS Global Market Researchrecently conducted a study that found that cost conscious Chinese smartphones have started to force the rest of the mobile manufactures to follow suit by lowering their price points in countries like Nigeria, where there are the highest numbers of smartphone users in Africa. But not only Nigerians are cost-conscious. For Africans who cannot afford smartphones, internet-enabled feature phones also offer access to services at lower costs.
Africais revolutionising how the rest of the world thinks about mobile technology by utilising every available means of mobile technology. But more research is still required to assist investors in understanding the unique needs of each of the countries in Africa. The benefits that mobile growth has brought, and will continue to bring to Africa will far outweigh any operational costs. Mobile operators and stakeholders from around the world are coming to invest in the continent and the benefits are slowly becoming visible. By continuing to improve the quality of life in some of the world’s poorest countries, mobile phones will provide inexpensive access to mobile content that can offer innovative solutions to local problems.
Yaron Assabi is the founder and CEO of Digital Solutions Group, offering communication and technology solutions for businesses http://www.dsg.co.za/