Definitive data and analysis for the mobile industry

Media Centre


Africa hits 557M unique mobile subs; smartphones to dominate by 2020

LIVE FROM GSMA MOBILE 360 AFRICA, TANZANIA: More than half a billion people across Africa now subscribe to mobile services, with the next wave of growth to be fuelled by mobile broadband networks and services that will see the majority of users owning a smartphone by 2020.

A new GSMA study released today – ‘The Mobile Economy: Africa 2016’ – reveals there were 557 million unique mobile subscribers across Africa at the end of 2015, equivalent to 46 per cent of the continent’s population, making Africa the second-largest – but least penetrated – mobile market in the world.

With much room for potential growth, the report sees the number of unique mobile subscribers hitting 725 million by 2020, accounting for 54 per cent of the expected population by this point.

By then, smartphone connections in Africa will have more than tripled, rising from 226 million in 2015 to 720 million in 2020.

Last year global smartphone penetration stood at 45 per cent, with Africa trailing at 23 per cent. By 2020 Africa will hit 57 per cent, not too far behind the global average of 66 per cent.

The more than 450 million additional new smartphones in Africa will be driven by cheaper devices (sub $50 smartphones are now available), a robust second-hand mobile device market, and the continued expansion of mobile broadband networks.

Indeed, the report notes that “African mobile subscribers are rapidly migrating to mobile broadband networks and services, a result of ongoing network rollouts and the increasing availability of affordable mobile broadband devices and tariffs.”

It adds: “Mobile broadband (3G/4G) accounted for just over a quarter of total connections at the end of 2015, but is expected to account for almost two-thirds by 2020. By mid-2016, there were 72 live 4G networks in 32 countries across Africa, half of which have launched in the last two years.”

The number of mobile subscribers in Africa that access the mobile internet also tripled in the last five years, reaching 300 million by 2015, equivalent to a quarter of the African population. An additional 250 million subscribers are expected to become mobile internet users by 2020, bringing the total to 550 million (41 per cent of expected population).

Slowing growth
The report wasn’t without its warnings, though. Africa’s mobile growth will slow from a previous CAGR of 11 per cent (between 2010 – 2015) to a rate of 6 percent between 2015-2020, reflecting a global downward trend.

And as GSMA director general Mats Granryd outlined during his event keynote today [1], there are significant barriers to connecting unconnected populations in the region, including limited network coverage, high cost of mobile ownership, a lack of locally relevant content and a lack of digital skills.


MWC24 – All Slides from GSMA Intelligence Sessions

GSMA Intelligence ran 4 sessions on Wednesday 28th February during MWC Barcelona 2024. Below you can find the slide decks for the sessions. Satellite and NTN Summit Sustainability Summit Global … Continue reading “MWC24 – All Slides from GSMA Intelligence Sessions”

Read more

Sustainability Summit – Photo Gallery

Photos from the Sustainability Summit hosted by GSMA Intelligence at MWC Barcelona 2024. Slides presented by Peter Jarich (GSMA Intelligence) can be found here. Featured speakers: Peter Jarich, Head of … Continue reading “Sustainability Summit – Photo Gallery”

Read more

Satellite and NTN Summit – Photo Gallery

Photos from the Satellite and NTN Summit at MWC Barcelona 2024. The full recording and slides can be found here. Featured speakers: Tim Hatt, Head Of Research & Consulting, GSMA … Continue reading “Satellite and NTN Summit – Photo Gallery”

Read more


GSMA Intelligence is the definitive source of mobile industry insights, forecasts and research, used around the world. Our insights cover every mobile operator, network and MVNO in every country worldwide – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Our team of analysts and experts use their deep understanding of markets, technologies and regulatory issues to identify and understand mobile trends, and form captivating analysis on the topics shaping the mobile industry.

Start Using GSMA Intelligence

Interested to know more?

Our Business Development team will work with you to find the most suitable subscription package to suit your needs. Working with our Insights and Research teams, we provide tailored product demos to help you better understand how we can contribute towards your business objectives. Click below to get in touch and schedule your demo now.

Start Using GSMA Intelligence