A smart­phone evo­lu­tion on the hori­zon

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By MASI

Africa, with a pop­u­la­tion sec­ond only to that of the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, is ready for the smart­phone evo­lu­tion that will bring ubiq­ui­tous in­ter­net ac­cess.

Nearly half of the 1.17 bil­lion-strong African pop­u­la­tion had mo­bile phone plans by the end of 2015, mak­ing up 6 per­cent of the global mo­bile rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est data from GSM As­so­ci­a­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion of global mo­bile op­er­a­tors.

The re­port, re­leased in Novem­ber in Tan­za­nia, showed that this is a 70 per­cent in­crease from just five years ago. More im­por­tantly, smart­phone sales now ac­count for 23 per­cent of the mo­bile phone mar­ket.

“Africa is the next big po­ten­tial bat­tle­ground for mo­bile phone ven­dors in com­ing years. As 4G be­comes avail­able in more African coun­ties, the de­mand for smart­phones will grow,” Tarun Pathak, senior an­a­lyst at Coun­ter­point Re­search, said.

Ac­cord­ing to him, Africa, with fea­ture phones in­cluded, is now a big­ger mo­bile phone mar­ket than the US, and it will sur­pass Europe in next few years, as the lo­cal tele­coms in­fra­struc­ture im­proves.

The GSM As­so­ci­a­tion also pre­dicts the spec­tac­u­lar growth in mo­bile de­mand should give rise to 730 mil­lion in­di­vid­ual African sub­scribers by 2020.

The trend is not lost on the minds of senior ex­ec­u­tives. Chi­nese com­pa­nies have ex­tended their pres­ence to the African con­ti­nent, in the hope of es­tab­lish­ing a beach­head.

Oppo Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Corp cracked the mar­ket in 2015, with an ini­tial fo­cus on North Africa where peo­ple gen­er­ally have higher in­comes than in other parts of the con­ti­nent. Huawei Tech­nolo­gies Co Ltd has opened of­fices there, and hand­sets made by rel­a­tively new play­ers like Xiaomi Corp are also avail­able in the con­ti­nent now.

Wam­bui Mon­icah, a mo­bile phone re­tailer in Kenya, said he is now sell­ing Chi­nese brands in­clud­ing Tecno, Oppo and Len­ovo.

“I ex­pect more Chi­nese brands to en­ter the Kenyan and African mar­kets. There are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he added.

But still, the mar­ket is dom­i­nated by low-end gad­gets. In the third quar­ter of 2016, the African mar­ket grew by 6 per­cent year-onyear, mostly driven by the ris­ing de­mand for fea­ture phones rather than smart­phones, data from Coun­ter­point sug­gest.

Xiang Li­gang, a smart­phone ex­pert and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of tele­com in­dus­try web­site cc­time.com, said the un­sta­ble po­lit­i­cal con­di­tions in some African states and low in­comes are still ma­jor ob­sta­cles.

Yu Lan, a trans­la­tor who has been work­ing for a Chi­nese con­struc­tion firm in An­gola, a western African coun­try, for three years, said lo­cal brands are still pre­ferred among An­golan peo­ple.

“But I have no­ticed an in­creas­ing num­ber of them are em­brac­ing Huawei and Xiaomi hand­sets,” she added.

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