[Column] Ian Fogg: Understanding mobile experience in the growth continent of Africa
Across Africa, the download speeds experienced by smartphone users vary greatly, even for countries with similar 4G availability. While users in South Africa, Morocco, Senegal and Kenya connect to 4G signals on average between 72% and 75% of the time, download speeds vary from just 4.4 Mbps in Senegal to 14.4 Mbps in South Africa. This wide difference is because of a number of factors including the capacity of cell site backhaul most commonly used – microwave links are common in Africa yet support fewer users at high speed than fibre links – as well as the number of users and the quantity of mobile video consumption.
Africa is notable for being a mobile growth market for operators, vendors and for consumers where Europe and North America have stalled. Across Africa 4G is still being rolled out. Many users continue to have smartphones capable of only 3G, either because the smartphone hardware is less capable, or because their SIM card is 3G-only. The sheer size of African countries combined with low population densities also means rural areas still often have only a 3G network experience available for 4G smartphone owners.
Like everywhere, Africans are embracing smartphones as a core part of their lives. But in Africa, the smartphone is more likely to be a person’s only digital device which makes the experience mobile only and not just mobile first. This means the smartphone has an even greater importance for consuming video than for consumers in other markets.
But the mobile video experience scores across Africa are relatively low, ranging from poor in Nigeria, Algeria and Sudan, to good in South Africa. While consumers may have fewer alternative ways to consume digital video in Africa, operators will find enormous potential to differentiate their mobile service using mobile video across the continent because of the increased role of mobile in consumers’ lives.
Upload speeds are an important part of the mobile video experience as upload is used for email, sharing content, and for business users for sharing office files and connecting to remote virtual private networks (VPNs). While the download speeds experienced by smartphone users are adequate for web browsing in leading African markets such as Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia and South Africa, the upload speeds experienced by users are perhaps more limiting.
Upload speeds are under 1 Mbps in Ethiopia, Libya and Burkina Faso where smartphone users mostly connect to the world using 3G. But in most of Africa, upload speeds are under 3 Mbps which will make sharing user-generated video on social networks especially slow, even if the download speeds are high enough to allow smartphone users to watch videos on sites such as YouTube. As 4G availability grows across Africa, mobile operators should seek to evangelize video sharing alongside video consumption to acquire customers.