The mobile phone is the most prevalent form of wireless technology in Africa; there are about 104 mobile networks serving 52 million people in Africa and in fact the demand for cell phones has exceeded that of fixed lines with most mobile phone owners knowing the cell phone as their first and only phone (besides the point, but do you remember those amazing rotary dial phones?)
The methods of deployment of mobile technology in Africa include the widespread prepaid system (like airtime), as well as community payphones (think Tuvugane) and even bicycle phones!Postpaid plans are available as well but not widespread.
Unfortunately, the reality of GSM license fees and the high costs of setting up base stations; not to mention unreliable electricity supply and the difficulty of setting up stations in remote areas means that penetration of mobile technology in Africa is not optimal.
This of course is in contrast to the need for lower tariffs and low cost of entry, especially in rural areas, in order to reach out to an even larger market-this is a dilemma.
Investing only in the smaller urban markets at the end of the day is profitable only in the short run:
I vouch for a model that produces lower revenues but higher usage levels under the supposition that despite the initial lower revenues, the effects of increased user numbers will lead to increased traffic.
Another hindering factor is the logistics involved in selling airtime to end-users and the sky-high commissions that come with vouchers.
(On the brighter side, the small coverage of AC power has created business for stores that provide battery-charging services at a small fee; these charging centers are places to socialize and network as well and provide additional capital from providing refreshments to customers)
As the leading wireless technology in use currently, we can bank heavily on different applications that run on a mobile platform; for example complementary services such as banking, services for persons with disabilities, creating job-search portals, etcetera.
It is imperative that we exploit the cell phone to its full capacity; a good example is in Kenya where there are mobile services to provide marketing and financial services for agricultural entrepreneurs: compiled credit scores of potential clients as well as an SMS info service for farmers to receive market prices from all over the country are just an example of how mobile technology is being maximized.
Rwanda was elected to the International Telecommunications Union council in late 2010 and yet we have only two major telecom giants battling for a minute market (albeit a rapidly growing one); it is also true that cell phone use in Rwanda is relatively expensive compared to our East African counterparts and I am very tempted to say that the lack of competition is a factor in this.
We have a powerful tool at our disposal; it is about time we pushed the bar and exploited it-it would also be good to foster competition, especially as the leading ICT hub in East Africa. I am just saying…