Speaking at the Fifth Global Forum on Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, Gillwald said: “The kind of ITU supply side indicators that you’re seeing [on] many of the multilateral organisations... are using data that was supplied by operators, and it’s often not an exact account of what’s happening on the ground.”
Taking South Africa as an example, she said the ITU put mobile penetration at about 120 per cent, while she said the amount was actually at around 80 per cent, as there are still people in both rural and urban areas in the country who are without mobile phones or who are using very basic feature phones.
According to Gillwald very few people used the internet through their phone some ten years ago, but this is “changing significantly”.
“The point about this data is that its a very valuable resource for people who are trying to develop services and apps for mobile users in South Africa, and particularly in this case for the bottom of the pyramid,” she said.
Gillwald said Research ICT Africa has been conducting surveys throughout 12 to 17 countries over ten years.
She said their findings have revealed “incredible” changes within the telecommunications industry as well as the impact these changes had on software and mobile applications.
“Perhaps most significantly during this time is the shift, of course, from fixed to mobile, and... the introduction of the internet on mobile phones. In 2007/2008, when we did the survey there was almost zero penetration across the continent... It was about 1 per cent,” said Gillwald.
“In a very short period of time that has shifted, particularly in South Africa where there are more smartphones and feature phones available, but [also] across the continent - in Kenya, in Uganda, in Rwanda, in Cameroon and in Nigeria and in all the markets we’ve looked at switched to mobile internet.”
According to Gillwald one of the larger drivers of the switch to mobile internet is social media.
Gillwald said people admit they are no longer using SMS and email is dead to those who access the internet on their mobile phones for the cheap or free mobile communications applications.
HumanIPO reported yesterday (Thursday) Dr Pieter Streicher, managing director of BulkSMS, had said while there is an undeniable migration to social media applications or third party messengers, SMS is still the better means of communication for business.
Furthermore Gillwald said this is affecting mobile operators and there is essentially nothing they can do about it.
“This is really a case of where the mobile industry or mobile operators have shot themselves in the foot.”
Gillwald believes mobile operators should have built the SMS service into packages as a value added service, but instead the operators chose to keep the prices high in most African countries.