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African Mobile Market, Q2 2009 Numbers

Africa has 415,010,625 mobile phone subscribers, with an average growth rate across the continent of 5.4% between Q1 and Q2 2009.

Africa and Middle East Mobile Telecoms Market in Figures: Q2 2009Blycroft does an excellent job of aggregating data on African mobile phone markets each quarter. They’ve compiled their report for Q2 2009 which includes subscriber numbers and other useful data, titled “The Africa and Middle East Mobile Telecoms Market in Figures 2Q 2009“. The mobile data includes GSM and CDMA networks, but excludes fixed and CDMA-wireless networks, which are classed as an extension of the fixed network. Make sure you get over to their site and pickup the full report, available for £399.

Mobile subscriber growth numbers by African region:

African mobile phone subscriber numbers - graph by region

comparing Q1 to Q2 2009

Statistics for the North Africa region for 2Q 2009 cover 6 states and 131,109,223 subscribers, up from 123,903,195 in 1Q 2009, and representing a net gain of 7,206,028 ( 5.8 percent)

Statistics for East Africa cover 12 states and 61,983,813 subscribers, up from 58,257,266 in the previous quarter – an increase of 6 percent. Year- on-year growth saw some additional 18,382,201 mobile subscribers in the region; a growth of 42 percent.

Statistics for South Africa cover 10 states and 62,175,521 subscribers, up from 60,093,764 in the previous quarter – an increase of about 3.5%

Statistics for West Africa cover 16 states and 125,616,329 subscribers, up from 118,644,669 in 4Q 2008 – an increase of approximately 6%.

Statistics for Central Africa covers 11 states, and 34,125,739 subscribers. (Note: I’m missing the Q1 2009 numbers for Central Africa, if you have them, please pass them on so I can update the chart)

Top 20 African States by Mobile Penetration

There’s not much available in the non-pay version to see, in fact, they’ve removed almost every meaningful number and graph. However, there is one graphic covering the top 20 African states by mobile penetration.

Top 20 African States by Mobile Penetration

As usual, South Africa and Egypt show large subscriber numbers, both at around 50 million users. Interestingly, penetration in South Africa is over 100%, but is still only at 60% in Egypt, meaning there will be much more growth there than South Africa in the future.

When discussing penetration rates, we always see a higher proportion of small and island countries due to the fact that it takes a lot less mobile users to have a significant percentage covered. Unfortunately, that’s somewhat meaningless in a chart like this, because they’re mixing small with large countries. More useful would be two charts that are separated on population levels.

MoneyGram Tackles Mobile Payments

Transacting money to and from Africa comes in a variety of flavors. Generally, besides country-specific solutions, there are: bank wires, Western Union or MoneyGram, buying phone cards in-country that can be resold, cash in a suitcase, mail a check (that will be stolen in the post office), etc.

Comparing money transfer services rates

As you can see, there are limited practical ways for getting money transferred internationally on a regular basis. It’s no wonder then, that even with the transaction costs ranging from $15-70, people tend to use the safer, more secure methods of banks, and money transfer businesses like Western Union and MoneyGram. I’ve used all three of these, and over time have started to drift towards MoneyGram as my favorite. They have a cheaper transaction cost than the other two, and I’ve experienced a much easier time with them over the hurdles that Western Union decides to throw in your way.

All this to say, if we consider banks wires a static white-collar service, then MoneyGram is quickly becoming the best option as the common man’s way to transfer money internationally. As such, I’ve been getting deeper into their services, seeing what types of API and digital offerings that they have which could be useful.

Mobile Payments

Currently, MoneyGram has around 180,000 agent locations around the world. More importantly, they’ve just announced that they are set to tackle the mobile payments space by creating relationships with the mobile networks.

“Mobile money transfer services are an emerging part of our product offering and we are eager to bring these services to the Middle East. Overall, we expect mobile service to be in highest demand in developing economies where individuals are more likely to have mobile phones than bank accounts.”

This is an important point, as it merges two different ecosystems of payments. At the local level, in countries that have the right tools and cultures for them, mobile payment solutions act as transfer services for people within the country. Traditionally, this local mobile payment system is not available for use by those internationally.

Global vs local mobile money transfers

Right now MoneyGram’s connection to the mobile payments agents is focused on the Middle East and Asia, my hope is that countries in Africa will soon follow. My guess is that Zain’s Zap service might be one of the first, due to their connection to the Middle East, but no one knows for sure yet.

[Update: Just before posting this I heard about a couple of banks and Western Union in the UK working with Mpesa in Kenya to do transfers via mobile. Others are working hard in this space too, and for good reason, it provides a great deal more usability for end-users on both sides of the ocean. If one entity catches that mindshare, they’ll have a lot more profitability in the space)

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