The Role of Mobile in Africa’s Development: A Conversation with Max Cuvellier Giacomelli

Max Cuvellier Giacomelli’s perspectives from MWC 2024 shed light on the intricate dynamics shaping mobile connectivity in Africa.

During MWC 2024, we had the opportunity to engage with Max Cuvellier Giacomelli, the Head of Mobile for Development at GSMA, who provided insights into the mobile connectivity landscape in Africa. The continent, recognized as a mobile-first region with half its population under 30, is brimming with potential that could redefine its digital future.

Max Cuvellier Giacomelli highlighted that while a significant portion of Africa’s population is covered by mobile networks, a substantial “usage gap” exists. Many individuals, despite having network access, do not utilize mobile internet services. The affordability of handsets and a lack of digital skills emerge as critical barriers, hindering the full utilization of mobile internet capabilities. In addressing affordability, innovative models like fractional payments are being tested. Such initiatives, exemplified by Safaricom’s approach in Kenya, facilitate the acquisition of mobile devices, suggesting a future where high upfront costs don’t obstruct connectivity.

The narrative of Africa as a continent lagging in digital connectivity is shifting. With 85% of the population now within reach of mobile internet services, the stage is set for transformative growth. The challenges we face, from closing the usage gap to enhancing digital skills and ensuring affordability, are significant, but they are not insurmountable. The potential for impact is immense, offering a pathway to not only bridge the digital divide but to foster a new era of economic and social development.

Max Cuvellier Giacomelli, the Head of Mobile for Development at GSMA

The conversation also touched upon the importance of service relevance and digital skills enhancement. For instance, local innovations, especially in the realm of climate tech, are crafting solutions tailored to African needs, signaling a direction where technology directly responds to the continent’s unique challenges. Comparatively, Africa’s connectivity gap is more pronounced than global averages, yet this disparity frames an opportunity for substantial growth, particularly in narrowing the usage gap.

Affordability is a multifaceted issue. It’s not just about the inability to pay; it’s about the perceived value of the service compared to its cost. Many see the price of handsets as prohibitively high, which is a significant barrier to mobile internet adoption. Yet, innovative financial models, like fractional payments, offer a glimmer of hope. By breaking down the cost into manageable payments, we can transform the economics of mobile ownership

Max Cuvellier Giacomelli, the Head of Mobile for Development at GSMA

A pivotal aspect of the dialogue was the role of public-private partnerships in fostering an enabling environment for mobile technology growth. The collaboration between mobile operators and governments is essential, especially in navigating the intricacies of taxation and regulation, which significantly influence affordability and accessibility. These partnerships are instrumental in leveraging resources like Universal Service Funds, optimizing their impact on connectivity and usage.

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