Sub-Saharan Africa has witnessed dramatic growth in the penetration of ICT services since the mid-1990s – mainly in mobile telecommunications, where the number of mobile users grew from 10 million in 2000 to more than 180 million in 2007. The fixed-line market has grown much more slowly, from 10 million in 2002 to 11.8 million in 2006.
Competition among mobile operators has created a race to increase the percentage of the population covered by their networks. By 2006, one or more of the mobile networks covered 62% of the Sub-Saharan population. This coverage continues to increase each year.
Access to new ICT services has been remarkably broad. Across Africa, the rural mobile penetration rate is 3%, while in middle-income countries it is as high as 13%. In urban areas, the penetration rates range from 22% in low-income countries to 38% in middle-income countries. Even people among the lowest income groups have access to ICT through mobile networks.
The widespread use of prepaid telephone service has revolutionized access to mobile networks for low-income households. An estimated 97% of consumers in sub-Saharan Africa are prepaid users.
This rapid growth in access to ICT in Africa has happened despite the relatively high price of services. Prices in Africa are now declining, but not as fast as in other world regions. If prices were to fall to the levels seen in South Asia, access to ICT in Africa could be signifiantly higher.
The average price of international calls in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen significantly since 2000, but prices for calls to countries outside the region remain much lower than for calls within the region.
The cost of completing mobile network coverage for voice in Africa is relatively modest. Reaching all the un-served population would require investment of US$0.8 billion a year over 10 years. Currently, 43.7% of the population lives in areas not covered by wireless voice networks. If the right competitive environment is established, the private sector could fill most of this gap, reaching 39% of the population with a voice signal. Only US$0.3 billion per year of public investment would be needed to reach the remaining 4.7% of the population in the coverage gap.