Influx of affordable devices in Africa fuels adoption of 5G smartphones

By Conrad Onyango, bird story agency

Despite slow network infrastructure rollout on the continent, Africans are taking advantage of cheaper smartphones to leap into the growing digital economy offered by 5G.

African citizens have begun moving at a much faster rate in upgrading their smartphones to 5G compared to the rate at which their home countries are developing and rolling out network infrastructure to support high-speed internet.

The number of 5G devices shipped to the continent rose significantly in the second quarter of 2022 as vendors intensified their battle to grow market share.

US-based tech research firm, International Data Corporation (IDC) shows that competition among handset makers to bring to market the most advanced but more affordable models is fuelling adoption. “Shipments of 5G devices increased 26.9% in Q2 2022 and their share of the overall market is growing as major brands launch more flagship 5G devices into the market,” said IDC senior research analyst, George Mbuthia.

The demand for 5G over the period significantly outpaced the overall growth of smartphone shipments into Africa – which fell 7.9% quarter-on-quarter due to gloomy economic prospects, rising inflation and component shortages.

That means 5G shipments ate into the market share of 4G and 3G-enabled devices, with the latest smartphones giving users the ability to upgrade to a higher internet speed network when it becomes available.

Falling smartphone prices, especially in midrange devices – between $200 and $450 – is also offering a big window for rising adoption of some high-end, 5G-powered devices. Devices in this range recorded the biggest fall in average prices, at 22.3%, as imports of entry-level smartphones priced at less than $200 dropped by 6%.

Chinese vendors are the key drivers behind the falling prices, with Transsion brands – Tecno, Itel, and Infinix – accounting for 48% of the shipments. Samsung is placed second, at 25% while another Chinese brand, Xiaomi, takes the third slot with 6.6%.

The Shenzhen, China-based Realme brand announced in Kenya it is to increase research and development budget by 58% to make advanced smartphone models with designs that appeal to young mobile customers. “This means you can expect even more exceptional Number Series phones moving forward, as our Number Series is our essential product line, packing essential tech into a stylish package with an accessible price tag,” said Realme chief executive officer, Sky Li.

According to IDC, 4G devices make up 73.9% of all smartphone shipments to Africa followed by 3G (18.5%) and 5G (7.6%) with the latter projected to gain a significant market share as more countries begin to rollout network infrastructure to support this technology.

“The 5G segment includes foldable smartphones, although adoption of this new technology has been slow due to the high prices of these devices. The slow pace of 5G network infrastructure development across Africa has not slowed adoption since 5G devices can also be used on the more readily available 4G networks,” said Mbuthia.

So far, seven countries – South Africa, Seychelles, Botswana, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Nigeria and Zimbabwe – have rolled out commercial 5G services over the last two years. South Africa was a frontrunner, having launched the services during the Covid-19 pandemic to support demand for work and learn from home arrangements.

Tanzania and Nigeria are the latest to officially roll out 5G on the continent, after MTN Nigeria began test runs in six states in late August and Vodacom Tanzania launched the 5G service in Dar es Salaam on 1 September 2022.

Other markets are at different stages of development, with many remaining at testing and planning stages due to delays in spectrum and license issuance to telcos.

Kenya’s largest telco, Safaricom, has been testing 5G in four towns since March 2021, with plans for an official rollout this year.

The country’s telecoms regulator, the Communications Authority of Kenya, announced in February plans to roll out the technology on a pilot basis in 2022. In June, it signed a five-year partnership with China’s tech giant Huawei to build out a 5G network across the country.

In July, telecom MTN Ghana indefinitely postponed its commercial rollout for this year, after pilot plans failed to materialise. New dates remain elusive. “Since I promised once and failed, I don’t want to make another promise until we are absolutely sure,” MTN Ghana CEO Selorm Adadevoh told media in the country.

South Africa (16.6%), Nigeria (13.8%), and Kenya (7.7%) currently hold Africa’s top three smartphone market slots by unit share, according to the IDC.

/bird story agency