MTN Group and partners which include China Mobile Communications Group have developed an entry-level smartphone revealed to be sold for $20. The initiative will boost internet penetration across the African telecommunication company’s 22 markets.
According to the MTN Group CEO, Rob Shuter, only about a third of MTN’s 225 million subscribers in the Middle East and Africa used the internet regularly. He said this was as a result of the high cost of entry-level data bundles and smartphones.
MTN, which is Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator, is aiming to sell about 10 million units in the next three years. Shuter said encouraging many of the company’s existing customers to switch from basic handsets to smartphones will be “a major boost for internet penetration”.
In Africa, smartphone ownership remains well below the global average. A Pew Research Centre study shows that 51 percent of adults in South Africa owned smartphones in 2017, falling to 32 percent in Nigeria, 30 percent in Kenya, and just 13 percent in Tanzania.
The results show an unsettling trend, as mobile operators need to grow internet traffic partly to offset a long-term decline in voice revenues.
The “world’s first 3G smart feature phone” was developed by MTN, operating software provider KaiOS Technologies, chip maker Unisoc and China Mobile, the world’s biggest mobile network operator.
Shuter said the phone will be priced at $20 or slightly more in countries where import duties are high. However, he noted that the phone would cost about half of the next cheapest entry-level smartphone in most African markets.
The phones would not be made in Africa, but introduction would give local developers an opportunity to create apps. There are plans to ensure that the device, which will come with the MTN Mobile Money app, starts selling from the first quarter of 2019.