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4G connectivity could drive a new era of productivity for African entrepreneurs

Sub-Saharan Africa’s telecoms infrastructure has improved in leaps and bounds over the past few years, thanks to new undersea cables, national fibre links and mobile data services. Even though applications such as email and social media have taken off, Africa has lagged global trends in the adoption of more bandwidth-hungry apps such as cloud computing, remote working and video.

The reason for this is simple: 2G and even 3G connectivity isn’t always fast and reliable enough for more demanding applications. Add in the high costs per-megabyte for cellular data in many parts of the continent and it becomes clear why many African businesses have been reluctant to embrace the full potential of the mobile Internet.

That picture is beginning to change. According to the GSM Association (GSMA), 4G accounted for just under 1% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s connection base in 2014, compared to a global average of 11%. However, the Association predicts that connections will grow to 6% by 2020 as issues such as unavailability of 4G spectrum are resolved.

The impact of 4G

What’s more, the GSMA predicts that Sub-Saharan Africa is set to add more than 400 million new smartphone connections by 2020, bringing the smartphone base to over half a billion. The combination of cheap handheld computing and fast mobile connectivity could be transformative.

Consider, for example, how video-conferencing could become a viable application. For small African businesses where budgets are smaller, the increasing availability of 4G and consumer devices suitable to do work on, could make a big difference. The fact that they could access their information without restrictions means flexibility and the ability to work from anywhere.

Developments in connectivity, software and hardware are allowing small business owners to work ‘smarter’ rather than ‘harder’. It means there is no excuse for entrepreneurs not to join the mobile working bandwagon if they haven’t already. It’s a time of connectivity even for those people who are stuck in the most rural parts of the region as they are now finding ways to work on the go.

New applications

The GSMA estimates that mobile technology spurred improvements in productivity and efficiency for workers and firms in Sub-Saharan Africa that were worth around $50 billion in 2014. This is just the beginning. LTE could spark the next productivity revolution as African businesses adopt a broader range of mobile applications.

Mobility will transform how African businesses interact with employees, suppliers, customers and other stakeholders. This ranges from mobile marketing, advertising and e-commerce for consumers to mobilising business applications such as the enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions and using richer communications tools for collaboration.

Author Bio

Ivan Epstein
Ivan leads Sage across Africa, Australia and the Middle East and Asia. Starting his career at Price Waterhouse, Epstein then co-founded Softline in 1988 leading it from startup to listing on the JSE in 1997. Softline was delisted and acquired by Sage in 2003, when Epstein joined the Sage... More