A new report from the GSMA forecasts there will be 386 million unique mobile subscribers in Sub-Saharan Africa by the end of this year, equivalent to 41 per cent of the region's population.
The subscriber base in the region has thus increased by 13 per cent a year (CAGR) on average during the first half of this decade (2010 to 2015), growing at more than twice the rate of the global average (6 per cent) during this period.
This also means that Sub-Saharan Africa overtook Latin America in 2014 to become the world's third-largest mobile subscriber market, behind only Asia Pacific and Europe.
Importantly, the mobile industry in Sub-Saharan Africa contributed $102 billion (€90 billion) to the region's economy last year, according to the GSMA report. This was equivalent to 5.7 per cent of the region's GDP. Mobile operators directly contributed $31 billion, representing 1.7 per cent of GDP.
The industry is forecast to contribute $166 billion in value to the region by 2020, equivalent to 8 per cent of expected GDP by this point.
Alex Sinclair, acting director general and CTO at the GSMA, said the mobile industry remains a key driver of economic growth and employment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
"Despite revenue and margin pressures, local mobile operators continue to invest heavily to extend network coverage to serve unconnected communities and accelerate the migration to high-speed 3G/4G mobile broadband networks, he said.
Sinclair added that mobile technology is also playing a central role by addressing a range of socio-economic challenges, particularly digital and financial inclusion, and enabling access to vital services such as education and healthcare.
However, he warned that future progress "will depend on governments working with the industry to provide a regulatory environment that encourages investment and innovation."
The report also found that the total number of mobile connections (excluding M2M) in Sub-Saharan Africa is on track to reach 722 million by year-end. Mobile broadband (3G/4G) will account for almost a quarter of connections this year, but will increase to 57 per cent by 2020, driven by expanding mobile broadband network coverage and falling device costs.
Regional smartphone connections will reach 540 million by 2020, accounting for half of total connections by that point.
Commercial 3G networks have been launched in 41 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa as of June 2015, while 4G networks have been launched in 23 countries. Mobile operators in the region invested $9 billion in network infrastructure development in 2014, a 16 per cent increase on the amount invested in 2013. The ongoing investment in mobile broadband networks will see capital investments reach $13.6 billion by 2020.
Investment in these high-speed networks is resulting in a corresponding growth in consumers using their devices to access the internet; almost a quarter (23 per cent) of the Sub-Saharan African population will be using the mobile internet this year, a figure forecast to rise to 37 per cent by 2020.
Mobile is seen as the primary means of accessing the internet in a region where fixed-line infrastructure is severely limited, the report added.
- read the full GSMA report here
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