The South African cellular market surpassed the 50-million connections milestone at the end of 2008, although only 68% of these represented individual users.

This was according to the 2009 Mobility survey, which was conducted by World Wide Worx, and backed by First National Bank (FNB) and Research In Motion (RIM).

“This gives the impression that every South African has a cellphone, but that is obviously not possible,” said World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck. “It’s become clear that many pre-paid users have a SIM card for each major network, to avoid incurring the interconnection fee charged for calls between networks. The low cost of new SIM cards – as little as 50c for a starter pack – also gives anyone the ability to have more than one number,” he added.

The interconnection fee added R1,25 to the cost of every call, and has prompted new approaches to cellphone usage in South Africa. Mobility 2009 also revealed further innovative approaches taken by both consumers and business users to make their cellular lives more effective.

The research showed that the average number of SIM connections, or active cellphone accounts, per cellphone user in South Africa grew steadily after pre-paid accounts were introduced in 1996. The number grew from an average of one SIM card for each phone user in 1997 to 1,2 per user in 2003 and to 1,47 per user at the end of 2008. This gap between users and connections was expected to continue to grow as both consumers and businesses find more innovative approaches to cellphone usage.

“Cellphone functionality has progressively grown beyond the traditional voice and SMS. With the growing trend towards cellphone banking, mobile media, mobile marketing and mobile internet access. In-depth understanding of consumer perceptions and trends is critical in addressing the needs of the consumer,” said FNB Mobile and Transact Solutions CEO Len Pienaar.

“In South Africa, cellphones have become the most easily accessible and convenient way of offering services to remote areas, and an understanding of cellphone usage and trends is necessary to leverage the technology effectively,” added Pienaar, highlighting the importance of the research of the Mobility survey.

“The findings of the preliminary research for the annual Mobility survey confirm that South Africa’s cellular market continues to enjoy robust growth, even with market penetration at around 100%,” said RIM Regional Director for Sub Sahara Africa Deon Liebenberg.

“Our own experience reflects that it is not only the number of cellular connections that is growing, but also the applications for which subscribers are using their smartphones. Mobility is changing people’s personal and business lives by allowing them to stay in touch with information, applications and other people wherever they are,” noted Liebenberg.

The preliminary research for Mobility 2009 was based on analysis of government and institutional data, as well as personal interviews with key role players in the cellular sector, including network operators and wireless application service providers.

“RIM looks forward to seeing further findings from Mobility 2009. The research should paint an interesting picture of how people and businesses in South Africa are using their smartphones to be more productive and efficient. It will be particularly interesting to see what the latest trends in the mobile Internet space are. We believe that there is a massive opportunity to bring mobile Internet services to more of the country’s people through affordable pre-paid services,” concluded Liebenberg.