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Role of the Poor

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The booming market for mobile telephony in South Africa

Again, looking closely at the country level can reveal business opportunities. Even though South Africa has a fairly advanced mobile phone sector, large portions of the country’s poor population lack access (figures 1 and 2). In urban areas, 43 percent of households living on less than US$2 a day have access to a mobile phone, but in rural areas, only 31 percent do. Households living on more than US$2 a day are only slightly better off; in urban areas 56 percent have phone access, in rural areas 38 percent, and access varies widely across regions. Cell phone penetration is generally strongest in the west and weakest in the central part of the country. Free State has the greatest disparities: at least 40 percent of people earning more than US$2 have mobile phone access, but fewer than 20 percent of those earning less than US$2 a day do. Studying why access varies so much among regions and among income groups could yield new opportunities to close access gaps.