I was using Google’s Public Data Explorer to compare African mobile subscription rates per 100 people for available data for the last 10 years or so and then got the inkling to do the same for Asia as I will be relocating there in the next few months (specifically to Korea). Now conventional logic would dictate that the leading economic powerhouses in the region would dominate this ranking and that partly is true. Japan and Korea are well ahead of most, but a surprising contender emerges in the top spot: Vietnam. Vietnam has reached something approaching full saturation in terms of mobile penetration. 

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Not only is the penetration at close to full saturation, it is quite the upswing since 2006 or so, which leads me to believe one of two things could have happened (or both):

  • Government subsidies-the Vietnamese government links mobile to development and encourages use through subsidized subscriptions/technology
  • Deregulation-the government decides to offload bloated state enterprises and begins with the telecommunications sector, allowing a semblance of competition, which in turn lowers prices and encourages adoption of mobile technology. 

Either way, as I mentioned in my previous post, this type of mobile penetration leads to freeflowing communication, which in turn places great pressure on existing bottlenecks (in the form of bureacracies). Whether or not that leads to social change is another matter, but mobile communication exposes inefficiencies in terms of the flow of social interaction so one wonders if we will see anything from Vietnam in the coming years in this regard. 

Now, turning to Africa we have a different, yet equally surprising, story. All in all, mobile subscription rates are quite respectable for most of the continent and that stands in parallel to what we have been hearing about select countries reaching 100% mobile penetration rates in the very near future. But, at least according to 2009 statistics, the leader in sub-Saharan Africa surprised me a bit. 

[googleapps domain=”www” dir=”publicdata/explore/embed” query=”ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&ctype=l&strail=false&nselm=h&met_y=it_cel_sets_p2&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=country&idim=country:AGO:BEN:CMR:COG:ZAR:GMB:GAB:KEN:MWI:MDG:NAM:NGA:NER:MLI:RWA:SLE:ZWE:ZMB:GHA:UGA:TZA&tstart=725846400000&tunit=Y&tlen=16&hl=en&dl=en_US&iconSize=0.5&uniSize=0.035″ width=”500″ height=”425″ /]

Gabon was approaching a 100% mobile subscription rate in 2009 with Gambia placing a very respectable second at well over 80%. Smaller populations? Possible as neither Gabon nor Gambia top out over 2 million people. Saturation might be a more readily attainable number in smaller control groups. Government support or deregulation? Possible. A lack of computer ownership spurring necessity in terms of mobile use? More than likely. Fascinating, though, that neither Asia nor Africa was topped by the more economically successful nations. Granted, I lazily excluded South Africa (although a larger population makes me think their mobile penetration would be lower), and all of North Africa, but the numbers are surprising. 

By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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