The mobile market in Africa is about to enter a golden age. According to a recent report from the GSMA, Sub-Saharan Africa is set to have the world’s fastest growth in smartphone uptake, with 160 million new mobile subscribers by 2025.
But while 4G and increasingly, 5G are becoming the norm in the West, in Africa, 2G is still the most popular network, with only 7% of subscribers accessing 4G. What’s more, many people in the region use basic feature phones for voice calls and SMS.
With so many subscribers still dependent on legacy networks, what can be done to upgrade African subscribers to modern networks and devices?
Smartphones, smart choice
There are a number of barriers that make accessing 3G, 4G and even 5G networks difficult in Africa, from cell mast coverage to affordable mobile services contracts. On top of that, there is a lack of access to affordable smartphones. Together, these factors make it difficult for those in the region to maximize the opportunities newer network infrastructure and faster connectivity brings.
The cost of data is also a big factor. With feature phones predominantly used for voice calls and text messages, the running costs of these devices are significantly lower than smartphones, where surfing the web or using connected mobile services can be costly.
With the potential to improve the lives of millions, we are starting to see African operators deploy 3G networks and, in some areas, leapfrog from 2G to 4G or even 5G. But continuing to run legacy mobile networks alongside newer networks is expensive business.
Which means all players in the market need to be doing more to encourage African subscribers to make the jump to newer networks, so that 2G networks can be switched off. And while operators are the ones responsible for the network infrastructure, it’s not solely their responsibility to get African subscribers to upgrade to newer devices and mobile networks.
It’s also in the interest of OEMs to encourage subscribers to upgrade to newer devices and newer wireless technologies, getting more subscribers onto operating systems and using apps and services. Each new smartphone subscriber will be buying into an OEMs brand, becoming an advocate for their devices and services. It’s also in the interest of the various governments to ensure the public has greater access to digital services.
Governments across the globe have already realized the benefits of 4G devices, boosting economies through services such as ecommerce. In fact, some governments have even gone as far as to introduce digital inclusion subsidies, decreasing the price of devices to encourage subscribers to make the jump to next generation wireless technologies. For example, Tigo, a leading mobile operator throughout Africa, worked with the Ministère Des Femmes in Chad to remove taxes on mobile phones, before subsidizing 20,000 smartphones over 3 years for Chadian women. Governments also realize the domino effect of encouraging younger subscribers to upgrade to newer devices and newer networks. With the cost of data decreasing and the benefits of upgrading to a smarter device becoming more inviting, the rate of smartphone adoption has the potential to boom if operators, OEMs and African governments work together.
A second life
Along with government initiatives, there are other ways to make smartphones more accessible in Africa. The introduction of inexpensive smart-feature devices, or “smeature” phones, is allowing many people to access the latest digital services for as little as $20 per device. While the African market is still approximately 60% feature phone orientated, these new, less-expensive devices should begin to tip the scale.
Repurposed, pre-owned devices are also an attractive option for the region. Not only are pre-owned devices a cost-effective option for African subscribers, giving them the option to own newer models at a fraction of the price, it is an environmentally friendly option, eliminating the need to manufacture devices when millions of devices, in excellent working condition, are already available.
With new iterations of devices released every year in Western markets, there is a deluge of smartphones that have a second life in them. There is no reason why these devices can’t be repurposed for African markets, not only providing a financial benefit to the original owner but offering a less expensive option for those looking to upgrade to newer devices and networks at a reduced cost.
African markets present huge opportunities, and it will be the efforts of operators, OEMs, governments, as well as other players, like HYLA, whose solutions enable mobile device trade-ins, that will play an important role in increasing smartphone adoption in the region.
To find out more about the benefits of the secondary device market and engaging in a circular economy, download our whitepaper: Mobile Devices & the Circular Economy