Why Kenya's mobile subscription figures could be inflated

Kenya has 26 million or even less mobile phone subscribers, a new report says.

The figure is lower than what the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) recently reported, in an indication that many subscribers have multiple SIM cards.

GSM Association, the London-based global mobile operators’ lobby group, in a study released Wednesday,  shows Kenya only accounts for five per cent of the slightly over half a billion people across Africa that are subscribed to mobile services.

The CA last month said Kenya had 38.3 million subscribers as at March 2016. But the new ‘Mobile Economy: Africa 2016’ report released at the ongoing GSMA Mobile 360 – Africa conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, shows Kenya has about 12 million less subscribers than earlier estimated by Kenya’s telecoms regulator.

This means the country’s mobile penetration rate is also much lower than CA’s rate of 89.2 per cent as at March 2016. GSMA analyst Kenechi Okeleke said CA’s numbers could be taking into account all mobile phone connections, whether active or not.

“There is a difference between connections and subscribers. We as GSMA believe that the most important number is unique subscribers. It doesn’t matter how many lines you have,” said Okeleke, who is the author of the report.

He added, “We conducted a massive study on the number of subscribers in various countries and found out that the actual number for Kenya is 26 million.”

In terms of total number of connections, he said Kenya has about 37.5 million, nearly what CA reported.

GSMA puts Kenya’s average SIM card ownership at 1.43, meaning many mobile phone users in the country have multiple lines. In the past, mobile phone operators have been accused of inflating subscriber numbers to boost their brand image, submitting even dead or inactive numbers in their tally.

CA gets its numbers from the operators, but they could be counting both active and dormant lines.

In Africa, the GSMA report finds there were 557 million unique mobile subscribers across Africa at the end of 2015, equivalent to 46 per cent of the continent’s population, making Africa the second-largest – but least penetrated – mobile market in the world.

Africa’s three largest markets – Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa – together accounted for around a third of the total subscriber base.

“More than half a billion people across Africa are now subscribed to a mobile network, providing them not just with connectivity but a gateway to a range of other essential services in areas such as digital identity, healthcare and financial services,” said Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA.

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