West Africa Mobile ecosystem to be worth over US$50bn by 2022

  • New study points to strong subscriber and mobile broadband growth in West Africa

The mobile industry in West Africa is forecast to contribute more than US$50billion annually to the region’s economy by 2022, according to a new GSMA study published at the ‘Mobile 360 – West Africa’ event being held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.

The new report, The Mobile Economy: West Africa 2018, calculates that the region’s mobile ecosystem contributed US$37billion in value last year – equivalent to 6.5 per cent of GDP, and will grow to US$51billion (7.7 percent of GDP) within five years. The economic contribution over this period will be spurred by strong subscriber growth and the move to mobile broadband networks and services.

“Today’s report demonstrates the vital role West Africa’s mobile ecosystem is playing in driving economic growth and empowering citizens across the region, as well as in delivering toward many targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals,” said John Giusti, Chief Regulatory Officer at the GSMA. “However, further work is required as more than half of West Africa’s citizens are not yet connected to a mobile service, excluding them from the socio-economic benefits that mobile delivers.”

Large youth populations driving subscriber growth

At the end of 2017, there were 176 million unique mobile subscribers[i] across the West Africa sub-region, which comprises the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)[ii]. This is equivalent to a penetration rate of 47 percent of the region’s population, up from just 28 percent at the start of the decade.

Strong subscriber growth is forecast to continue over the coming years; 72 million additional mobile subscribers are expected to be added in West Africa by 2025, lifting subscriber penetration to 54 percent. Much of this growth is attributable to the demographic situation across the region, as large youth populations are expected to take out mobile subscriptions as they reach adulthood. According to the report, more than 40 percent of the population in many countries across sub-Saharan Africa are below the age of 16.

Meanwhile, the transition to mobile broadband in West Africa is being driven by the expansion of 3G and 4G networks, lower data tariffs and the increasing affordability of smartphones. 3G networks now cover two-thirds of the regional population and 4G adoption is also rising rapidly.

As of March 2018, there were 29 live 4G (LTE) networks in nine countries across West Africa – six of which have launched in the last year. 3G and 4G together accounted for 36 percent of West African mobile connections in 2017 and are forecast to rise to 94 percent of the total by 2025. Local operators are expected to spend US$8billion (capex) over the next two years, building out and upgrading their networks.

Mobile powering economic growth and jobs
The expected increase in the mobile ecosystem’s contribution to West Africa’s economy over the next five years will be due primarily to productivity gains. The greater availability of mobile broadband networks, for example, will enable improved access to information and services – which in turn drives efficiencies in business processes across many industries, including finance and health.

Alongside the economic contribution, the mobile ecosystem also supports jobs and contributes to public funding. Last year, the mobile industry in West Africa provided employment to more than 200,000 people – predominantly in the retailing and distribution of services and handsets; and made an annual tax contribution to governments’ public finances of US$4billion.

“Connecting a new generation of mobile subscribers across West Africa requires a new era of collaboration between industry and governments, in order to implement policies that encourage network expansion, innovation and affordability,” added Giusti. “In addition to the work of operators in expanding and improving networks, significant effort from governments at all levels is needed to create the right conditions for continued investment.”