It’s no secret that Africa is, in many ways, well ahead of so called developed markets in embracing mobile technologies. The MEF Global Consumer Survey revealed that “mobile first” markets were more readily adopting a range of mobile services from mhealth to mobile banking, and African countries were chief among them, building out home grown mobile ecosystems, that meet very real consumer needs.

Here Toby Shapshak, editor and publisher of Stuff magazine  gives his take on the African mobile revolution and shares why he believes Africa is a mobile-driven continent. Shapshak is a key speaker at Mobile Convention London, taking place March 26th in the Church House, London.

How did Africa evolve into the continent where mobile innovations happen first?

Initially it was bad luck. Africa was always the bottom of the list for new tech, and therefore never got a wired/desktop environment going (except in some places like South Africa or global multinationals). Without a legacy to protect, the freedom of cellular made it possible for everyone to, literally, leapfrog forward using cellular. And while smartphones are still scarce, some of the smartest Stuff is being done with good old feature phones, like M-Pesa, Ushahidi, etc.

Do other (Western) countries and continents copy African mobile technologies?

Yes, they do. The first use of pay-as-you-go was in South Africa by Vodacom, to overcome the problems with obtaining credit histories on a vast potential customer base who didn’t have such records. Pre-paid is now as big an industry as franchising, enabling service providers around the world to provide a service without being hamstrung by unavailable credit records.

Is it true that the continent has skipped Wi-Fi and went immediately to mobile data?

Yes, but that’s not a compliment. Cellular is ubiquitous but its also very, very expensive – especially compared to Wi-Fi, which needs fixed lines (hopefully broadband, but often just ADSL) to provide the signal that wireless hotspots dispense.

There is a shift in some places, usually urban areas that Wi-Fi is being provided by cellular operators to relieve the land that the cellular networks are under.

What can we expect from African technology in the near future?

The great thing about how we solve problems in Africa is that we solve all sorts of problems. Because there are no alternatives, people find a way. Africa practices the best form of innovation, innovation out of necessity. So, whatever the problem, you can expect us to find a savvy way to solve it.

Mobile Convention London taking place March 26th, will provide in-depth insights into mobile engagement strategies and how mobile can be used in the wider ecosystem. MEF is also hosting a round table on Mobile Money. MEF Members can get 25% on delegate passes – visit the MEF website for more information.

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