South Africa has witnessed a transformative shift in communication preferences over the past few years, with cellular phones becoming the preferred choice for the majority of households.

According to Stats SA, about 97.2% of South African households now own a cellular phone. This significant rise in mobile technology adoption has spread to all corners of the country, bridging the digital gap between urban and rural areas, while at the same time empowering people with unlimited access to information.

The widespread adoption of cellular phones has been a ‘game-changer’, particularly in rural areas where people had previously faced limited connectivity. This mobile revolution has facilitated continuous communication and eliminated the problems imposed by fixed-line infrastructure. As cellular phones offer greater flexibility and mobility, they have become a symbol of progress, not only in South Africa but across the world.

Quality of Network

While this shift is commendable, it is important to address the challenges that accompany it. One major concern is the quality of network coverage, especially in rural areas where connectivity remains limited. 

The government’s efforts to expand internet access are commendable, but addressing network issues in remote regions has proven to be a daunting task, especially during blackouts. 

In 2022, the former minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, announced that government was planning to accelerate the provision of internet access, with the aim of reaching 80% of the South African population by 2024. However, she also emphasised that this exercise would be difficult in rural areas because of the poor network coverage.

Cost of data

Affordability is another important factor that needs attention. Although cellular phones are widespread, the cost of data and mobile services is a barrier for those with lower incomes. Ensuring affordability of smartphones and data packages is critical to enabling wider and more extensive use of cellular phones among all segments of the population. 

In 2016, South Africans took to social media, complaining about the high cost of data, which led to the formation of the #datamustfall movement. Despite these efforts to bring attention to the issue, the price of data continues to remain high, making it unaffordable for a significant portion of the population.

Data protection and cybersecurity

As mobile technology becomes deeply ingrained in daily life, concerns about data privacy and cybersecurity have also risen. Users need assurance that their personal information is adequately protected while using cellular phones and services. Striking a balance between convenience and data security is paramount. 

But it’s good to see that Africa as a continent is taking this issue seriously and continuing to strengthen the legal and regulatory framework for data protection. To date, close to 70% of all African countries have data protection laws or regulations, and some 30% of all African countries have signed the African Union Convention on Cyber Security and Personal Data Protection, adopted on 27 June 2014.

Stats SA data on fixed-line and cellular phone ownership exemplify South Africa’s willingness to embrace the mobile revolution. However, to maximize the benefits of this transformation, collaborative action is needed to address challenges and ensure equitable access to cellular phones for every South African. With this, the country can march towards a more connected and prosperous future.

[Photo: Hessam Nabavi for Unsplash]


Tawanda is a research analyst for the Centre For Risk Analysis (CRA). He is primarily involved in writing chapters for the Socio-Economic Survey of South Africa, a reference guide on major trends in various social and economic fields. Tawanda’s other responsibilities include writing opinion pieces, assisting in research projects and reports and liaising with the media. Tawanda holds an Honours in Business Management from the University of Limpopo and is currently studying towards his Masters in Business Management.