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Monday, 12 November, 2001, 15:44 GMT
African mobile phone use booms
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Mobile phone use soars as the market is liberalised
More people will be using mobile phones than the fixed-line alternative in Africa by the end of 2001.

Third generation mobile services, however, are unlikely to be available soon and internet use will remain miniscule.

Progress is very encouraging in Africa, but much remains to be done in developing new technology and bridging access for all sectors of society and not just the wealthy few

Yoshio Utsumi
The number of mobile phone users in Africa will soar to 28 million by the end of this year, from just two million in 1998, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

This compares to 22 million fixed-line users.

"We are driven to put some myths to rest. One is that Tokyo has more telephones than the whole African continent," ITU Secretary General Yoshio Utsumi told a news briefing ahead of the week-long ITU Africa 2001 conference in Johannesburg.

The extraordinary growth of mobile use is due to the small number and high cost of fixed-line connections and the liberalisation of the mobile phone market.

Despite this, 20 African nations still have less than one telephone per 100 people.

More growth

About 36 operators have launched mobile services in the 18 months to June, bringing the total number to about 100 across the continent.

By the end of 2002, mobile phone use will triple to 98 million, while fixed-lines will only increase by a third, because of the number of mobile phone licenses being issued and telecoms privatisation projects, Mr Utsumi said.

"Progress is very encouraging in Africa, but much remains to be done in developing new technology and bridging access for all sectors of society and not just the wealthy few," he said.

Only six African countries now do not have access to mobile phone services, while in 17 others mobile phones outnumber fixed-lines.

African 3G distant

The global economic downturn and the battering of the telecoms sector on the stock markets has cut investment in new technologies.

As a result, Africa is expected to join the back of the queue when it comes to the roll-out of third generation (3G) technology which allows high-speed internet connections and video streaming to mobiles.

"Africa doesn't have the need for 3G right now. They do not have the frequency or the bandwidth," Rene Gufflet, a vice-president for Alcatel, told Reuters at the conference.

European telecoms companies have pushed back to 2003 from 2002 plans for the roll-out of 3G.

Internet use

The "e-Africa Commission" was launched at the conference, the first initiative of Africa's economic regeneration programme - the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).

The commission's role would be to develop strategies to spread internet access across the continent, which has so far been largely by-passed by the online revolution.

The ITU estimates there were about 4.4 million internet users in Africa at the start of 2001, about half a percent of the continent's population, and more than half of them were in South Africa.

This compares with the over 50% penetration in developed countries.

Eritrea became the last African country to be wired to the web in November 2000.

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