- Most people in Africa access the web through a mobile phone
- The continent's broadband growth is increasing at twice the global average rate
- A host of mobile-based start-ups have exploited this by offering services from banking to farming
The continent has some of the lowest fixed-broadband subscription rates in the world, with most people's first encounter with the world wide web coming via their mobile phones.
Around 70% of mobile users browse the internet on their devices, and Africa's mobile broadband growth is increasing at a rate of more than 40% -- twice the global average.
This is largely due to the weak land-line infrastructure on the continent, which makes connecting through a desktop computer difficult. Low-cost or second-hand feature phones are also much cheaper to buy, which has made them ubiquitous across the continent, and it is estimated that by 2016 Africa will have a billion mobile phones
. Feature devices also stay charged for longer -- a crucial requirement in a part of the world where the supply of power is irregular and unreliable.
"More people in Africa have a mobile phone than access to electricity," according to Toby Shapshak
, editor and publisher of Stuff Magazine. "That means, for a phone to be functional, it needs decent battery life. These feature phones have anywhere up to a week."
This has created a unique environment where mobile technology have been adapted for a wide range of usages, from lowering information barriers and improving access to financial and health services to boosting commerce and bringing people together.
Mobile money transfer systems such as M-Pesa
, which launched in Nairobi in 2007, allow customers to send cash to remote areas with the touch of a button. The service has nearly 17 million active customers who make more than US$1.1 billion worth of transactions per month.
And if you're worried that the medicines you bought might be counterfeit, you can check their authenticity through mPedigree
, a mobile application which gives you a "genuine" or "fake" answer after you text the drug's serial number.
Mobile phone technology has also moved into sectors outside the traditional tech remit. Farmers can access information about the weather, real-time market prices, and new farming tips though mobile apps like Farmerline
Mobiles have even infiltrated arts and culture, with Badilisha Poetry X-Change
, the world's largest archive of African poets featured on a mobile first website.
The spread of internet-enabled cell phones has also had an effect on the fiber of society: "The impact of Internet access via mobile devices on the continent has been a game changer on the continent," according to Nmachi Jidenma
, manager of mobile disruptors at PayPal. "Access to social networks has given youth a platform for self-expression and civic participation in ways that are having real impact on elections, governance and accountability."