And the continent with the most mobile users is: Africa.
According to Wireless Intelligence, the number of African mobile connections reached 547.5 million within the last financial quarter of 2010. The number marks a 20 percent increase in mobile use across the continent from 2009.
The recent increase puts Africa ahead of Europe, which by the end of 2010 had 523.6 million connections, an increase of less than one percent in the last year.
With its sheer numbers of users, Africa has presented a challenge for mobile carriers who find the continent a wild frontier of market competition. As the number of mobile users has increased across the continent, carriers in Africa have sought to undercut each other in terms of prices for a larger number of users. In Kenya, Safaricom recently cut their SMS rates from $0.04 down to $0.01 to edge out competitors.
Currently, there is much debate over whether or not the competition has really been a benefit to Africa’s mobile users. According to Wireless Intelligence, telecomm companies estimate a Monthly mobile ARPU (average revenue per user) of $10 dollars in comparison to $30 from users in Europe. While many say the disparity reflects the competition, others argue it reflects the varying levels of service quality.
So far, officials have defended the rights of corporations to undercut costs despite concerns on quality. Tanzania’s Chief Commercial Officer Norman Moyo said the carrier’s price wars ultimately benefited consumers:
“Such guidelines safeguard consumers from unscrupulous operators who temporarily reduce tariffs to lure them from their current operator,”
It remains to be seen if cuts can continue without affecting service, but what is clear is that Africa’s mobile expansion is playing a part in its larger cultural revolution. According Reuters and figures from the Egyptian government published last week, during the months building to the country’s revolution, Egypt’s mobile user base grew 27.7% in 2010, reaching 70.66 million by December.