The increasing availability of cheaper smartphones has been decisive in the phenomenal growth of internet users, who increased by 15 million between 2012 and 2017.
New data published by the country’s telecoms regulator show that during the five year period, the number of Tanzanians with access to the internet increased from slightly over 7.52 million to about 22.99 million. The over 200 per cent rise saw local internet penetration increasing by 28 percentage points from 17 per cent to 45 per cent.
The digital revolution propelled by mobile phones has also contributed significantly in the number of e-wallet users. The latest Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) figures published last week show that there are now over 21 million mobile money users in the country.
The TCRA growth data put mobile phone subscriptions in 2017 at 39.9 million. Currently there are seven mobile phone operators in the country, including Vodacom Tanzania, a unit of South Africa’s Vodacom, Tigo Tanzania, which is part of Sweden’s Millicom, Bharti Airtel Tanzania, and Halotel, owned by Vietnam-based telecoms operator Viettel.
Others are Zantel, Smart Telecom and TTCL
“With over 13 million citizens yet to be connected to the internet, digital inclusion in Tanzania has become a strategic priority for operators and the government alike,” GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, notes in a recent report.
“Connecting the remaining population in Tanzania will support an increase in GDP output and create new economic opportunities for all citizens,” reads the document titled: Tanzania Rural Coverage Pilots Performance Report.
Quartz Africa says that lower smartphone prices are driving a digital revolution in Africa, allowing mobile phone users to access the internet at unprecedented levels. Operators and developers are also leveraging the power of mobile networks to transform services in health, agriculture, education, energy and water management.
The number of smartphone connections across the continent almost doubled over the last two years, reaching 226 million. Selling prices have dropped from an average of US$230 in 2012 to US$160 in 2015, according to a report published by GSMA on Africa’s mobile economy.
“Mobile internet adoption in Africa continues to grow rapidly; the number of mobile internet subscribers tripled in the last five years to 300 million by the end of 2015, with an additional 250 million expected by 2020,” reads The Mobile Economy Africa 2016 report.
Despite the recent internet use success, global media scholar Lisa Parks says more can still be achieved. Factors favouring Tanzania she points out include the country’s hosting four major undersea cable landings, which suggest that its 51 million people would be well integrated within global broadband fibre optic networks.
She argues that despite Tanzanians’ close proximity to major internet gateways and the country’s innovative regulatory climate, limited electrical and terrestrial telecommunication infrastructure prevents most citizens from benefitting from these cable landings.
The number of internet users in the country was 9.31 million, 14.21 million, 17.26 million and 19.86 million in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. During the four years, the respective penetration rates were 21 per cent, 29 per cent, 34 per cent and 40 per cent.
TCRA’s estimated number of users by technology type in 2017 was as follows: mobile wireless – 19 million, fixed wireless – 3.46 million and fixed wired 520,698.