How best to leverage growth of mobile phone penetration

Participants of GSMA Mobile 360 Africa conference in exhibition in Kigali on July 17, 2019. / Emmanuel Kwizera

Like elsewhere on the African continent, the penetration of mobile phones in Rwanda has been growing steadily over the years.

However, the task now is figuring out the best ways to make the most of the growth in subscription beyond calls and texts. 


As at end May, Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Authority statistics showed that mobile cellular subscriptions stood at over nine million and is further expected to grow with the advent of introduction of cheaper phones.


A report launched last week during the just-concluded GSMA meeting in Kigali projected exponential growth in phone penetration anticipating more than 160 million new unique mobile subscribers will be added across Sub Saharan Africa by 2025.


This will bring the total to 623 million, representing around half of the region’s population.

As of 2018, the report showed that there were an estimated 456 million phones on the continent (44 per cent).

Mobile phone penetration in Rwanda like the rest of the continent is expected to serve more purpose than just connecting subscribers.

In East African Community, Rwanda and Tanzania are expected to have the highest subscription rates by 2025.

The growth in subscription presents an ideal opportunity to increase service delivery as well as map out new markets that were previously inaccessible such as healthcare services, insurance, financial services among others.

Kenechi Okeleke a lead analyst at GSMA Intelligence told The New Times that the growth in mobile phone penetration creates an ideal opportunity for countries such as Rwanda to increase service delivery especially of basis services such as education and healthcare.

This, he said creates an ideal opportunity to address social economic challenges such as curbing unemployment and growing returns of emerging small and medium enterprises.

The GSMA report for instance singled out Rwandan start-ups ARED and Kasha among those that are innovating around growth of mobile subscription to facilitate social and economic progress.

Kasha is an e-commerce platform that among other products has eased access to female hygiene products while ARED develops mobile solar kiosks mostly run by women and people living with disabilities.

Babyl Health Rwanda is another firm with that is riding on mobile phone penetration to roll out Rwanda’s largest digital health services.

With Sustainable Development Goals being a major point of attention for countries, the GSMA report authors say that mobile phones can be a pathway towards goals such as access to education, healthcare, reduction of poverty, hunger, provision of decent work among others.

Mobile Phone penetration, Okeleke said can enable countries serves towards increasing financial inclusion by creating alternative avenues to banks and Mobile Money platforms.

For instance, insurance penetration currently stands at less than 3 per cent in Rwanda which the experts said could benefit from innovation and ease of access guaranteed by mobile phones.

Mobile phones the experts say can also can increasingly have huge impact in bridging unemployment gaps and market access challenges.

However, in the way of such ambitions, experts say is low tech literacy levels especially among would be beneficiaries.

Local tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs say that growth in mobile phone subscription and access presents an opening for emerging entrepreneurs with opportunities ranging from content creation, marketing products and services to availing basic services.

Yasmina McCarty the Head of Mobile Development at GSMA said that to make the most of the growing phone subscription rates, countries need to  figure out ways ensure that a wider section of the public has necessary digital skills.

McCarty explained that there are several models to increase digital literacy including tapping into existing businesses and networks to identify skills they may be lacking that could increase their productivity.

This she said is not a task solely for government and requires input of the private sector and development partners. 

Goodluck Akinwale, the head of GSMA in Sub-Saharan Africa also noted that to make the most of the opportunities presented, the cost of data out to go down and the quality ought to improve.

Among other things, to allow firms to make the most of the opportunity, he noted the need for the country to maintain its ecosystem for investment and innovation which will allow more firms to consider entering the market.

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