Takeaways from Mobile 360 – Africa 2019: Mobile innovation and inclusive partnerships are unlocking digital dividends

The GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator and portfolio start-up teams attended and participated in the Mobile 360 – Africa event from 16 – 18 July in Kigali, Rwanda. This year’s event attracted mobile operators, government officials, regulators, start-ups, donors, NGOs and investors. Discussions focused on how mobile industry stakeholders can better drive access to mobile technologies across Africa in light of the recent explosion in the number of digital citizens in Sub-Saharan Africa – by the end of 2018, there were 456 million unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa – an increase of 20 million over the previous year. In this blog we would like to share our three takeaways from the event.

Innovation is key to unlocking digital dividends for Africans

The majority of mobile users on the continent are on 2G and 3G networks, and are now increasingly using 4G networks. By the end of 2019, there will be more mobile broadband connections (3G and 4G) than 2G in Sub-Saharan Africa. This reflects a growing shift from basic voice and SMS usage to data-centric services. Ongoing investments in 3G and 4G networks have taken mobile broadband coverage to around a quarter of the total population.

Newer technologies will continue to play catch-up in the short and medium term – with 3G set to overtake 2G connections this year while 4G will overtake 2G in 2023. The economics of new investments for mobile operators are equally complicated due to increased pricing pressures and more informed customers who demand the best quality of service. These new technologies, which will power most of the innovations such as machine learning, IoT and artificial intelligence (AI) require huge capital investments despite fewer B2C use cases globally. In summary, newer technologies have the potential to unleash transformative potential while existing technologies will continue to serve the majority of Africans now and in the medium term.

Two start-ups – recipients of grants from Mobile for Development (M4D) Utilities and Ecosystem Accelerator programmes – present at the event are leveraging these mobile innovations to scale rapidly. SunCulture, an AgriTech start-up built and sold IoT enabled Pay-as-You-Go (PAYG) solar irrigation kitsin East Africa. The GSM-powered IoT enables remote control and monitoring of devices, as well device diagnostics, supporting the PAYG leasing model. In Uganda, Ensibuuko, a start-up that digitises SACCO platforms, partners with MTN Uganda, leveraging the operator’s mobile money API to help SACCO members deposit and withdraw remotely from SACCO accounts via mobile money – serving as a virtual ATM with both deposit and withdrawal functions.

It is clear that homegrown and Africa-focused solutions have better odds of scaling on the continent. According to Mugo Kibati, Telkom Kenya’s CEO, the concept of “homegrown solutions” does not imply that African problems will be only solved by Africans alone but rather that Africans must have a seat at the table throughout the process.

Inclusive partnerships will drive growth and access to mobile services

Bridging the digital divide is a complex mission and success will only come from collaboration between the mobile industry and a variety of stakeholders. In Kenya, Telkom Kenya is partnering with Google’s Loon to roll out networks in rural Kenya later this year. Similarly in the energy sector, the PAYG business model and off-grid energy providershave found synergies with mobile operators. For instance, PAYG energy models have demonstrated that a charged phone reduces customer downtime and improves mobile operator average revenue per user. Stephen Chege, Safaricom’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, summarised this trend by admitting that mobile operators “need to diversify [their] revenue by thinking outside the box as it’s no longer business as usual [in Africa]”.

Despite the challenges, significant strides that have been made. More start-ups such as MaTontine in Senegal and Musanga in Zambia are now partnering with mobile operators to scale innovative products and services but also drive some strong socio-economic impact. 80 per cent of women now own a mobile phone thanks to deliberate efforts to close the barriers to access. Over and above inclusivity, there are compelling economic reasons for embracing inclusive growth that leaves no one behind. For instance, closing the gender gap in mobile ownership and usage by 2023 would provide an estimated additional $140 billion in revenue for the mobile industry over five years.

Mobile has strong potential to close access gaps globally

According to the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Mobile Economy Report, by 2025 the number of SIM connections in SSA will cross the one billion mark. Globally, mobile technology can be leveraged to close existing gaps in access to basic services such in health, water, energy, agriculture, education, identity and so on.

GSMA’s new partnership with the Department for International Development (DfID), announced during the event,aims to drive inclusion, innovation and scale. This landmark partnership reinforces the joint power and potential of the private and public sectors working together in stimulating digital innovation to deliver both sustainable business and large-scale socio-economic impact. Two new areas of focusincluded in this partnership are providing mobile solutions to persons with disabilities and tackling climate change.

In the future, mobile technology will be fully embedded in both digital and daily lives of citizens. Thanks to growth in partnerships within and outside the mobile ecosystem, there is an increasing, deliberate effort to close existing access gaps through amplified innovation, so the future will arrive much sooner than we can predict.

Beyond our three takeaways of the event, eight of the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator Innovation Fund portfolio start-upsfrom this region were invited to pitch their solutions to the Mobile 360 – Africa audience:

  • Lynk – Kenya, is a digital platform that connects households and businesses with informal workers, artisans and tradespeople;
  • MaTontine – Senegal, a solution to digitise traditional savings circles (tontines) and facilitate access to credit and financial services;
  • Farmcrowdy – Nigeria, an online platform for individuals and businesses to invest in farming projects;
  • Ensibuuko – Uganda, a cloud-based core banking software customised for Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs);
  • TwigaFoods – Kenya, a mobile-based supply platform for small- and medium-sized fruit and vegetable vendors;
  • Taskmoby – Ethiopia, a mobile platform connecting skilled workers from the informal sector with customers;
  • Prepclass – Nigeria, a digital tutoring marketplace that connects learners and teachers; and
  • Agrocenta – Ghana, mobile financial services for smallholder farmers.

 

The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, the GSMA and its members.

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