I'm living at the moment in the rift valley about 40-50 miles west of Nairobi in the middle of a Maasai community. A surprisingly remote location being so close to the capital of Kenya. The only internet available is via the mobile network. Out in this area, there is no such things as a land line, fiber, etc. Mobile is the only option.
One anecdote about how mobile has changed things here. Last year there was a land dispute between two groups of Maasai near us that was pretty serious, 100+ Maasai on each side were armed with clubs, swords, spears, bow and arrow, ready to do ancient style combat with each other. I watched Braveheart, but it is pretty wild to see people gearing up for combat of that sort in real life. At any rate on their belt with their swords and clubs, they also carry a leather case with their Nokia phone. In this particular case they were used to text taunting messages back and forth between the sides. Normally, they would have to be within arrow shot to get a good taunt in. Now they can text a zinger in from the safety of the lee side of a large rock. For those wondering how it turned out. They had advanced within 100-200m of each other before one side decided it wasn't worth it, turned and ran.
I don't have stats, this is an offhand assessment, but I would say that about 60% of the Maasai in this area have a mobile phone. But this comes with some caveats:
- It is only in the last 15-20 years that people started regularly going to school in this area. So there is still maybe 85% illiteracy rate (off the cuff estimate). Which makes it difficult to SMS, except those who you know can read.
- Also power is a big problem I would estimate that upwards of 95% of people don't have direct access to power. So their phones are not working possibly half of the time. We have a steady stream of people who come to our house to get their phones charged.
- Most people here use a very basic Nokia phone which are great for voice calls and SMS, but aren't very smart.
Where the rich people live there is great 3G+ coverage and you will find lots of smart phones, etc. Out in rural areas the coverage is spotty data rates are low, service is a bit less accessible... Just like the US I suppose.
Africa is a huge continent with diverse culture and situations. There is a wide gap between rich and poor here. I think the mobile infrastructure is enabling, and more resilient than fixed infrastructure (in a place where it is common for people to dig up pipe or remove cabling from poles in order to sell the metal for a bit of cash). It is opening up the world in a way that was not previously possible. However, it is not magic, there are a lot of other things that need to be in place for the benefits to be fully realized. Good education, access to markets, a stable government being just a few.