Mobile data usage to ramp up in South Africa in 2012… with provisos

Dearth of South African mobile market statistics is fast becoming a thing of the past, as this post’s  abundant quotation of sources that offer rich insights will show. All signs are pointing in the right direction for this market, but there are things that need to be done to increase the momentum.

The latest South African Google Zeitgeist indicated that Whatsapp topped the fastest rising searches, ahead of Rugby World Cup and the Royal Wedding. Portland’s “How Africa Tweets” 2011 report put South Africa in the lead in Africa’s Twitterati stakes, with volume of tweets that was twice that of  the country in the second spot. In addition, this report stated that the bulk of Mzansi twitterers accessed this social platform from their mobile phones. Evidently, the growing access to data is allowing South Africans to do more with their mobile phones, and they are also looking for cheaper ways to do some of the basic functions.

Let me state the obvious fact, expressed in numbers: ACNielsens/SAARF June 2011 report indicates that mobile phone access in South Africa is 79.5%, compared to home PC’s 19.8%. The point that these stats reinforce is that the country’s digital future lies in mobile, as though you did not know. Mobile phone activities found in the SAARF report, and depicted in Graph 1, clearly underscore the reason why this hand-held device is becoming as important as the air we breath (well, almost):

Mobile-Phone-Activities-2011

Graph 1 – SAARF 2011 Report on Mobile Phone Activities in South Africa

Google’s Our Mobile Planet 2011 report indicates that South African smartphone penetration is 15%, and this puts the number at over 7.5 million devices. As per Google’s report, the following are smartphone activities:

Smartphone Activities 2011

Graph 2 – Google 2011 Report on Smartphone Activities in South Africa

This Google report covers only 30 countries (or 15% of the world’s total of 196 countries). Inclusion of South Africa, the only African country in the report,  is a huge sign of recognition. BUT, other African countries are threatening to leapfrog Mzansi in the mobile technology race.

Points to note in the comparison of the two mobile phone activity graphs above:

  • It is to be borne in mind that the activity stats in the graphs come from 2 different and non-aligned sources, and this is evidenced by how they were drawn for each report. Thus, I shall not be concerned about the absolute percentages or number of activities shown in each graph, but rather about the overall activity trends.
  • Google’s smartphone activities report excludes the 2 most common uses of mobile phones – calling and texting. I am making an assumption that these two activities were deliberately excluded in the extraction of Google’s activities report.
  • It is worth noting that more than 50% of the activities recorded in SAARF’s report are also found in Google’s report (as reflected by matching colors, albeit at different ranking positions in the respective graphs), and this number jumps to 2/3 when I exclude calling and texting activities in Graph 1.

The advanced technological capabilities of smartphones clearly allow users to do more  with their devices, compared to all other mobile phones. And, as the Google report indicates, South Africans access the Internet multiple times a day on their smartphone devices.  

Related post: Blackberry rules South Africa’s Twitterland with 2 in every 5 mentions

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All predictions are that South Africa’s mobile phone usage trends will improve in 2012. This will inherently result in higher mobile data usage, and it will spur app developers, mobile content managers and advertisers into accelerated action. But, the rate of increase is going to depend largely on 3 key developments:
  1. Decrease in broadband costs. While there is a noticeable downward trend, South Africa’s mobile broadband cots are still prohibitive. The current high cost is stunting this country’s mobile future, due to its direct impact on adoption and frequency of all mobile phone activities. The downward trend of data costs needs to be faster, as this will also ensure South Africa stays in the front of the digital technology bus.
  2. Increase in bandwidth speed. Mzansi’s adoption of technologies that provide faster connectivity speeds is projected to double in 2012 by  Cisco Visual Networking Index (see trend 6 in the linked report). This will greatly  enhance mobile content consumption.
  3. Increase in smartphone penetration. Introduction of larger numbers of cheaper smartphone models must be encouraged. We need many models such as the Huawei Android Phone that costs less than R1,000.
Huawei_Android_Phone

Huawei Android Phone

The future of mobile Internet connection has never been better for South Africa. But, it can even be brighter if the identified stumbling blocks above are addressed by the industry’s decision makers.

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