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Jaw-dropping data growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

04 June 2014, 08:42 Duncan Alfreds

Cape Town - While it's no secret that data demand is driving internet access, the rate at which Sub-Saharan Africa is growing is jaw-dropping.

According to data from Ericsson's Mobile Data Traffic Growth report for 2013 to 2019, the region's data appetite is huge and expected to grow at 65% to 2019 and beyond.

Put into perspective, mobile data in the region was at 37 000 terabytes (TB) per month in 2013, and that will jump to 76 000TB by the end of 2014, on its way to a mammoth 764 000TB by the end of 2019.

Most of the traffic is as a result of an increase of rich media consumption like video services and represents a 20-fold increase in data traffic, Ericsson said.

It is also expected that the next wave of internet users in the so-called post-PC era will use mobile data to conduct financial transactions online in increasing numbers.

Smartphone spike

But it's not only people using data that will drive demand.

The Cisco Tech Radar Report 2014 report revealed that machine-to-machine or M2M communication would be a driver of data growth as more smart devices are connected to the internet.

"Another key observation from the report states that, in the Application Economy, practically everything - roads, jet-engine parts, shoes, refrigerators, soil, and supermarket shelves - will have cheap, tiny sensors that generate terabytes of data that can be sifted for key insights," says the report.

A major reason for the growth spike in data is the uptake of smartphones.

According to research firm Gartner, smartphone sales totalled 968 million units in 2013, representing growth of 42.3% over the previous year.

The uptake of smartphones will contribute to data demand. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

This means that smartphones accounted for 53.6% of all mobile phones sold, eclipsing feature phones for the first time, Gartner said.

But that growth is shifting from developed economies like the US to developing countries like India, Brazil, China and SA.

"This increasing contribution of smartphones was led by growth in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, Asia/Pacific and Eastern Europe, where smartphone sales grew by more than 50% in the fourth quarter of 2013," said Gartner.

TV broadcasters

Despite this, spectrum for smart devices remains a challenge and in SA, the regulator has yet to make an announcement on the allocation of spectrum in the critical 800MHz band.

This frequency band is seen as critical for high speed data services, but it is currently occupied by analogue TV broadcasters.

According to the Draft National Broadband Policy, the challenge of fourth generation mobile spectrum has hindered the development of broadband.

"Institutional challenges associated with spectrum allocation, together with delays in the migration of analogue terrestrial broadcasting to digital, have meant that service innovation, increased competition, potential job opportunities and tax revenues have not been realised," the document says.

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