CAPE TOWN: Sub-Saharan Africa is the fastest growing region in the world for mobile connectivity and the number of unique mobile subscribers in the region is expected to grow to more than half a billion by 2020, according to a new industry report.

There were 329m unique mobile subscribers in the region at the end of June 2014, representing 38% of the total population, the GSMA, the trade association for mobile operators, said in its Mobile Economy 2014 report. This total is forecast to grow at 7% per year over the next six years, by which time mobile subscribers will account for 49% of the population.

At that rate of growth, sub-Saharan Africa will overtake Europe by 2020 to become the world's second-largest mobile market after Asia Pacific.

The number of mobile connections in Sub-Saharan Africa stood at 608m in June 2014, but this is expected to rise to 975m by 2020, the report added.

Just 17% of total connections in the region were 3G in June 2014, but is expected to account for more than half of the total by 2020. Meanwhile, 4G will produce a much slower rate of adoption, accounting for just 4% of total connections by that date.

Timed to coincide with the GSMA Mobile 360 Africa event, the report also expected the region to record the strongest growth anywhere in the world for the number of smartphone connections by 2020, which is expected to reach 525m 

Anne Bouverot, director general of the GSMA, said: "Millions of additional citizens in the region will become mobile subscribers over the next six years, with many being able to access the internet for the first time via low-cost smartphones and mobile broadband networks.

"Operators and other ecosystem players, as well as governments and regulators, all have a role to play in ensuring that affordable mobile services can be extended across the region."

Data sourced from GSMA; additional content by Warc staff