The annual AfricaCom expo is one of the biggest events on the technology and telecommunications calendar.
Hosted in Cape Town, the event gives all the movers and shakers in the telecoms industry a chance to network (ha). But this year's iteration also played host to some eye-opening news and analysis about the state of the African continent.
The overarching theme was probably the fact that Africa has just crossed the 750-million subscriber milestone for mobiles.
"The mobile phone is the only feasible way for digital inclusion (in Africa)," says Julio Puschel, Informa telecoms analyst, citing the difficulties in building fixed-line infrastructure and the costs associated.
In fact, so prevalent is the cellphone that many more people have one than have a bank account, he says.
Bringing Africa up to par
But there's still some ways to go to bring penetration up to speed with other markets. So what steps should be taken?
"One of the problems is that operators need to work closer with the government to bring services to the customers," says Puschel.
"But the operators are seeking a profit - they're a business."
The iTunes model doesn't work because many Africans don't have $1 to spend, he elaborates, citing mobile advertising as one possibile avenue for income.
"So operators will have to find a way to generate revenue in this limited environment."
The networks and manufacturers should focus on making compelling and relevant services rather than just being a simple data pipe or platform, he says.
Puschel cites Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry and their BlackBerry Messenger as a great example of a service that transcends its platform.
"Customers are using the internet (for BlackBerry Messenger) but they don't know that," says Puschel.
Prepaid is simply an option
Telecoms networks also need to pay attention to individual needs in the African prepaid market, rather than painting everyone with the same brush, Puschel continues.
"It's wrong to say that all prepaid customers are equal. Prepaid is not a segment, it's just an option for how you are going to pay your bill."
Puschel cites the example of a carpenter who uses his prepaid phone for work being different to someone that just receives calls.
"They need to segment the prepaid market and understand that people have different needs."
Puschel also suggests that networks reward prepaid users for loyalty, such as awarding more airtime/credit depending on your time with the operator. That way, users will be tempted to stay with their network for longer, hopefully spending cash in the process.
Looking to the future of connectivity
African networks have also begun to roll out high-speed LTE connectivity, but there's more to it than simply launching the tech and hoping for the best.
The technology will require a high investment, while affordable LTE devices will initially be some way off, limited to USB modems and premium phones for now, Puschel reckons.
Still, the high-speed connectivity offered by LTE is projected to play a big part in connecting rural communities to the internet, he says.
The rollout of compatible devices will probably be faster than that of 3G devices, according to Puschel, due to the LTE tech developing faster than 3G did at the same point.
Regardless, mobile will continue to play a major role in connecting people to the internet, and with scores of cheap yet smart devices being launched, millions more will be hooked up.