Data Speed Holds Africa Back as Streaming’s Newest Big Frontier, For Now

In Africa, the world’s second largest continent, music streaming remains tied to a telecommunications service model where voice, not data, is still king.

Despite the challenge, and others rising from a culture not yet adapted to paid subscriptions, music streaming services are betting on Africa.

Spotify launched last year in northern Africa and South Africa, a country with one of the highest per-capita incomes. Tidal launched in Africa in August 2018. Apple Music has been operating on the continent since 2015. Nigeria-based Boomplay Music launched in 2015.

Before them came Spinlet in 2013, one year after France-based Deezer arrived.

High Speed Changes Everything

But Africa is behind the rest of the world in broadband provision, relying primarily on wireless connectivity, rather than cables, to cover its vast spaces.

Madagascar, according to Speedtest, has the fastest Internet speeds, clocking an average speed of 22.57 Mbps, thanks to the underwater cable that supplies the island with good fiber broadband speeds.

As of last month, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous state, clocks only at 14.67 Mbps, and South Africa at 29 Mbps.

The global average for mobile download speeds is 27 Mbps. That will change as 5G networks slowly grow across the world, promising an estimated 490 Mbps for the median user, where available.

Table: Data Speeds Around the World, Before 5G

CountryMbps
South Korea90.06
Norway64.80
Canada63.63
Australia63.20
Netherlands60.31

Source: Speedtest

Ringbacks, Not Streaming, Rule in Nigeria

According to the most recent study from Pricewaterhouse Coopers, streaming is a negligible amount of music revenue in Nigeria. Caller ringback tones (RBTs) account for nearly all digital revenue.

Ringback tones replace a standard ringing sound when a mobile user is called. Users choose a song or clip for callers to listen to before a conversation or voicemail begins.

“It is therefore a music industry dominated by mobile telecom operators, which also own some of the country‚Äôs biggest streaming and downloading full-track services,” the report stated. “And because RBTs are confined to the controlled environment of mobile operators, they are not exposed to the ravages of piracy that affect other music.”

Phone Makers, Carriers Help Seal Entry

Africa’s rising music streaming stars count on strategic partnerships.

Boomplay was founded by Transsnet, a joint venture between Chinese phone maker Transsion and Chinese consumer apps giant NetEase. The service now reports an average of 2 million new subscribers per month, 44 million app downloads and 5.6 million daily users.

Tidal partners with telecommunications company MTN, giving its 10.5 million Ugandan subscribers access as part of its mobile plans, with streaming data included.

MTN is Africa’s largest telecommunications carrier and has a history of controversy. The carrier awaits a Nigeria court hearing over an alleged unpaid tax bill of about $2 billion. Late last year, it agreed to pay $53 million to settle a separate allegation about the illegal repatriation of funds

What to Know: The Tecno Smartphone

  • The best-selling smartphone in Africa and made by Transsion
  • Outsells major brands including Huawei and Samsung
  • Costs around $72 (2,000 birr)
  • An iPhone 7 in Africa costs $906 and a Samsung Galaxy J7 $360
  • Made by Transsion employees in both Africa and China