Kenyan telecom giant Safaricom opts to stop selling feature phones

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One of Kenya’s biggest mobile network operators has announced that it will soon start pushing smartphone adoption in a big way: by phasing out the sale of feature phones.

Speaking at the Mobile Web East Africa conference in Nairobi, Nzioka Waita, Director or Corporate Affairs at Safaricom, said that “Safaricom is soon going to stop selling the cheap feature phones in all our retail outlets, as we try to skew the Kenyan market towards smartphones”.

He added that as much as the company understands the importance of feature phones in the African market, as a leading telecoms provider it took it upon itself to ensure smartphone penetration increases. The declining cost of smartphones has made this possible. “You will now see the feature phones replaced by the cheap smartphones that are now readily available in the country,” he added.

Nzioka explained that the move will not only ensure customers switch to smartphones, but that the market for Kenyan-made digital content will grow. “Developers will now have an increased market to consume the content they produce, thereby developing the local tech scene further,” Waita added.

In general, Africa’s smartphone penetration figures are still low and mobile operators on the continent have been at the forefront of ensuring they increase the numbers among their subscribers. Safaricom recently launched a low-cost smartphone dubbed Yolo, for its bottom of the pyramid subscribers. For US$125, subscribers get 500MB of data, a phone with mid-range specs and running Android 4.0.

It is estimated that Africa currently has a smartphone penetration of between 17 and 19 percent, but some projections suggest that this will increase to some 40 percent in the next five years. The continent is home to one of the fastest growing mobile markets, which is expected to hit the 1-billion subscriber mark by 2015.


This article by Elly Okutoyi originally appeared on HumanIPO, a Burn Media publishing partner. Additional reporting by Memeburn.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/gideon.karuga Gideon Karuga

    This is awesome. With Safaricom’s wide coverage plus the good marketting and influence that they have, they should be able to pull this off. It will open up new opportunities for apps, in their ever expanding products, considering the services that they have already work flowlessly on the smart phones.

  • George

    My concern is that Safaricom may be a little premature with this move. After all $125 for a Yolo translates at current exchange rates into about R1100, which is not a negligible amount for the typical modest consumer in emerging markets. I doubt that thee are many Kenyans who will rush out to buy a Yolo at the equivalent price in Shillings.

    There is a good possibility that Safaricom’s sales of low-end mobiles will traverse a trough over the next two years until a reasonable balance is attained between price and quality for those cheaper devices.
    I fear that in the meantime their decision may backfire on them in as much as they could well lose some of their customers to anyone else who will meet their demand for feature’ phones.safaricom will have to work all the harder to recapture their business in two years’ time.

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