Don't Forget the A in EMEA
By Eric Lin, Wed Jun 16 21:30:00 GMT 2004

Because mobile subscribers make up such a small percentage of the region it's in, Africa is often ignored. The Yankee Group thinks the continent is due for major mobile growth.

The number of mobile users in China is expected to almost double in the next five years, making it a hot target for wireless business of every sort. A new study predicts that growth in Africa during the same time period should outpace China. Currently mobile penetration in Africa is about 6%. The Yankee Group expects that number to more than double to 13% or 125 million subscribers in five years' time.

Despite South Africa's strong start in mobility, the Yankee Group actually predicts north African countries have the strongest growth potential. Egypt and Nigeria both exhibit the right conditions for high mobile penetration. Although they shouldn't go in taunting Africans with expensive phones and fancy portals, the Yankee Group suggests that now is the time for global operators to start building out in Africa.

Africa may hold the potential for stronger growth as a percentage of the population, but it cannot match the sheer numbers of subscribers in China. A recent In-Stat MDR study expects nearly half a billion mobile users in China by 2008, and that's only 37.6% of the population.

Even in five years, neither region will achieve a very high mobile penetration, making them mobile development hotspots for years to come. Each presents its own set of challenges as well as opportunities. In Africa the climate (both political and ecological) and resulting economics, will make buildout a challenge. By starting service in more stable areas, operators get the chance to perfect the right mix of services and equipment in a reliable environment before venturing out into more difficult locales. Don't forget your sunscreen.