Gaborone: Botswana has one of the world's highest mobile phone density rates, beating industrialised giants like the United States of America (US), United Kingdom (UK) and Germany, according to the latest World Bank research findings. The global bank's Information and Communications for Development 2012 Report released last Wednesday assesses mobile phone uptake in 152 countries and their use in promoting development particularly in agriculture, health, financial services, and government.
It says in 2011, Botswana had approximately 144 mobile phone subscriptions per 100 people, putting it in an elite worldwide group characterised by higher than average mobile phone uptake.
According to World Bank researchers, the apparent anomaly resulting in more subscriptions than users indicates multiple subscriptions by individuals as well as SIM cards used in laptop, ATMs and USB modems, popularly known as dongles. At that density, mobile uptake in Botswana stands higher than 140 subscriptions per 100 people in Germany, 130 in the UK, 106 in the US and 95 in Japan, with these nations representing some of the world's most industrialised.
In Africa, Botswana's mobile phone density is third after Libya (172 subscriptions per 100 people) and Gabon, which has about 165 subscriptions per 100 people. Regional powerhouse, South Africa, has 128 subscriptions per 100 people, Namibia 110, Swaziland 78, Zimbabwe 60 and Zambia 54.
The report states that mobile phone density in Botswana ballooned from 30 subscriptions per 100 people in 2005, representing a near five-fold increase in spread of mobile phone technology. Other indicators uncovered by researchers support the robust spread of mobile phone services in Botswana over the years, since the World Bank's last report in 2005.
According to the data, the percentage of Botswana's population covered by a mobile phone network rose was estimated at 99 percent, ranking among the highest in the world and only inferior to several developed states boasting 100 percent coverage.
In Africa, including its richer northern region, only a handful of countries were measured as having mobile phone coverage above 90 percent, being Tunisia, Uganda, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Mauritius, South Africa, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
While Botswana was measured as having higher mobile phone density, its role in spreading developments across agriculture, health, financial services, and government lags behind other countries. For instance, mobile money services are only beginning to take root in the country with their rate of growth surpassed by wild successes in countries like Kenya.
World Bank researchers said the major determinate of mobile financial services uptake was cost. "Lower costs directly translate into money the poor can keep - in Kenya the amount of money remitted increased when transferred using M-PESA compared with traditional forms of remittances," the researchers said.
"Conversely, where transaction costs are high, as in Botswana where the cost per transaction is a minimum of P8, mobile money has been slow to take root."
The Bank of Botswana (BoB) is actively encouraging both banks and other players to enhance mobile money rollout as a way of spreading access to services for the country's unbanked.
However, Botswana received recognition for the role of mobile phone technology in its health sector where government and its non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners are using the Integrated Healthcare Information Service Through Mobile Telephony (IHISM) system. The budding system, being implemented by the University of Botswana, uses a mobile phone-based software application to allow health workers to capture, store, process, transmit, and access patient records.