New GSMA study highlights West Africa’s rapidly growing Mobile Economy

Half of all citizens across West Africa are now mobile subscribers and millions more are forecast to sign up to mobile services by the end of the decade, according to a new GSMA study.

The 15 markets that make up the West Africa region (highlighted) are the subject of the latest report in the GSMA’s Mobile Economy series, which is published today at the GSMA Mobile 360 – West Africa event being in held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

The study finds that there were 172 million unique mobile subscribers in West Africa at the end of 2016, representing 49 per cent of the population, this number is forecast to rise to 220 million (53 per cent of the population) by 2020. This 6 per cent annual growth rate (CAGR) makes West Africa one of the fastest growing mobile regions in the world – and one that will still have significant headroom for growth beyond 2020.

The devices West African subscribers are using and the networks they are connecting to are also changing rapidly. 3G is already present in every country in the region and there are now 23 live 4G networks in seven markets – 14 of which launched in the last 18 months alone. More than half of all regional connections are forecast to be running on 3G/4G mobile broadband networks by 2020, up from 21 per cent today (see graphic below). The availability of low-cost smartphones, and a burgeoning second hand smartphone market, is helping accelerate this trend.

Investment in new networks is occurring despite a challenging macroeconomic environment. In Nigeria, West Africa’s largest market, mobile operators recorded a 5.5 per cent decline in revenue last year on the back of rising inflation and a slowdown in consumer spending. Nevertheless, operators are forecast to spend a combined $12.6 billion (capex) on network upgrades and rollouts between now and the end of the decade to support the transition to mobile broadband.

The Mobile Economy West Africa report notes how there has been considerable focus from regional policymakers over recent years on delivering a more supportive regulatory environment, particularly in areas such as regulatory modernisation, spectrum management, taxation and mobile money services. For example, with only half the population currently accessing mobile services, there is a need for policies that help improve network coverage and bring new services to unconnected populations across the region.

The report also highlights how mobile technology is also helping achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the region by providing access to tools and applications that address a range of socioeconomic challenges. Mobile has been used, for example, to spread awareness of disease outbreak, such as the Ebola virus in 2014/15, and by the World Food Programme to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees and displaced persons in Mali and Nigeria.

The Mobile Economy West Africa 2017 report is authored by GSMA Intelligence, the research arm of the GSMA. English and French language versions of the report can be downloaded here: