The center of the Internet has moved South. Carter Horney of Forward Concepts has just published a Global 4G analysis with a detailed geographical breakdown. His projection for 2018 is 315M smartphone Internet users in India and 317M Africans connected. The U.S. population is 315M, some of them under 4 years old and not connecting to the net. His estimate is close to the 300M in 2017 I projected with Cisco's help http://bit.ly/Africa300M last year.
These estimates are very rough but the trend is clear. Both India and Africa have over a billion people. $50 smartphones are affordable to hundreds of millions more than are connected today. Carlos Slim told me two years ago that $50 smartphones will connect two billion more people. He's proving right.
In China, the U.S. or most countries in Europe, you can ask 3 or 4 big telcos and get a reasonable approximation. That's impossible in India or Africa. Many phones have two SIMs as people switch between carriers for cheaper rates. The carriers to impress investors use optimistic estimates, carrying on the books "subscribers" who had left months before for a competitor. There are 54 countries in Africa, some with good statistics and some without. Last year, I saw estimates from reputable sources of the total phones in Africa as low as 300-400M and as high as 700M. What is clear is that growth is remarkable, one of the great communications stories of our day.
Forward Concepts under Will Strauss has earned my respect. I'm comfortable using their estimates, especially because they are compatible with other sources including Cisco. Horney writes:
"The smartphone growth in Africa has accelerated from 1.2 mn in 2008 to 99.4 mn in 2014, initially driven by the wealthier post-paid South Africa population.The growth forward is in emerging markets such as Nigeria and Kenya.
In India the cumulative installed base of Smartphones (2G, 3G and 6 mn 4G), without retirements, grew from 6.5M in 2008 to 145M in 2014 with 55M 3G data subscribers. In 2014 80.1 million smartphones were shipped with about one-half signing up for a data service. We estimate there will be 346 million smartphone owners in 2016 with 178 million using the internet services. We estimate there will be 315 million 3G subscribers by 2018 with an installed base of smartphone owners at 443 million."
Without many copper lines, Africa needs as much capacity as possible on wireless. Rwanda has more advanced spectrum policy than the U.S. or Europe. Many of the African regulators have advanced technical degrees, unlike the Americans.
After I wrote that, I discovered an Ovum estimate that is much higher. Ovum is reputable but I'm more comfortable with the lower estimate above. Primary data is often lacking. Here's what Ovum writes