• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Digital inclusion can scale on low-cost smartphones for entry-level market

Nigeria’s smartphone sales grow despite naira fall — IDC

Current realities have established the place of mobile connectivity in driving national development hence more investments need to directed towards making smartphones more affordability, according to experts.

The GSMA in their latest data showed that smartphones now make up 39 percent of the 774 million mobile connections in sub-Saharan Africa. This is projected to grow significantly, but for Africa’s people to fully reap the dividends of mobile connectivity, it is critical that 4G-enabled smartphone handsets be made more ubiquitous for the entry-level market.

Feature phones still control over 70 percent of the mobile phone market and majority of the population especially in rural areas prefer them because they are far cheaper than smartphones. A significant barrier to affordability is shrinking family income. A report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) in May found that households in Nigeria spent about N22 trillion in 2019 representing about 57 percent of the total spending (N40.2 trillion) for that period.

READ ALSO: How smartphone penetration can broaden Nigeria’s financial inclusion drive

“This calls for financial innovation alongside the technological innovation that characterises the sector. Smartphones must become cheaper if Africa is to unlock the full potential of its people,” experts at Huawei said. “Fortunately, there are already encouraging signs that manufacturers, policymakers and network operators are partnering to integrate such financial innovation into the drive towards digital Inclusion.”

In markets like Kenya, Safaricom has rolled out a device financing programme, in partnership with Google and Teleone, allowing low-income earners in Kenya to access quality 4G phones at low installments from as little as Kshs 20 a day. Kenya has a high telephony penetration, but this has traditionally been dominated by 2G phones. With the campaign, the Kenya government can look to brining a million more customers into the digital economy.

As smartphones become the norm, the broadband spectrum can follow suit, and network operators can transition to a 4G- and 5G based platforms, with all the high-speed, mass-connectivity benefits that come with it.

Surging demand for 4G handsets indicates when a market is ready for the 4G network transition, and it becomes possible to shut down the 3G spectrum, as India was recently able to do.

At the recent LTE World Summit 2020, Sandeep Gupta, executive vice president of Barthi Airtel in India, said the decision to shut down the 3G network was motivated by two considerations – smartphone penetration, and the right network assets, such as SDR (Software Defined Radio) and singleRAN radio, which supports 4G VoLTE.

However, the core of this transition is affordable handsets. In China, 4G adoption has been hastened by the introduction of 100 Yuan (R238) handsets, catapulting millions into the 4G and 5G future.

In South Africa, smartphones have also become significantly more affordable, with handsets such as the Huawei Y5 Lite retailing for around R1 300. However, there remains scope to make 4G-enabled smartphones even more affordable and to truly democratise connectivity.