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Smartphone sales grow in Africa

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While 2018 was a tough year for worldwide smartphone shipments, Africa experienced year-on-year growth for first time since 2015, according to the latest figures announced by International Data Corporation (IDC). The global technology research and consulting firm’s newly released Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker shows the African smartphone market grew 2.3% in 2018 to total 88.2 million units, spurred by the strong performance of the continent’s three biggest markets – Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt.

Overall mobile phone shipments were down 1.9% year on year in 2018 to 215.3 million units, with feature phone accounting for 59.0% of shipments versus 41.0% for smartphones. This overall decline mainly comes from the sluggish performance of the feature phone segment in numerous countries across the region.

2018 was the first year since 2015 that Nigeria, South Africa, and Egypt have simultaneously experienced growth in mobile phone shipments. The Nigerian and Egyptian markets recovered from declines in 2017, thanks to the relative stability of exchange rates, the stronger presence of feature phones, and the introduction of new affordable smartphones. In South Africa, the growth was driven by local brands such as Mobicel and Stylo pushing feature phones and ultra-low-end smartphones.

Transsion brands (Tecno, Infinix, and Inel) led Africa’s feature phone space in 2018, with a combined unit share of 58.7%. Nokia was next in line with 9.6% share. Transsion, Samsung, and Huawei dominated the smartphone space with respective unit shares of 34.3%, 22.6%, and 9.9%. However, in value terms, Samsung led the smartphone space with 36.9% share, followed by Transsion (20.2%) and Huawei (12.4%).

Local and regional brands accounted for a combined 14.3% share of Africa’s overall mobile phone market in 2018. This is broadly equal to the share of all Chinese brands in the market, excluding Transsion, which is primarily focused on serving Africa and accounted for a significant 48.7% of the total market’s volume in 2018. 

“A new wave of local/regional brands are emerging across the continent,” says Taher Abdel-Hameed, a senior research analyst at IDC. “Some emerged after restrictions were placed on imports in countries like Algeria, while others have emerged to tap into opportunities in the feature phone and entry-level smartphone segments that have been almost vacated by global brands. Despite the success of Transsion brands in both the smartphone and feature phone categories, it is also worth noting the phenomenal growth enjoyed by Huawei and its sub-brand Honor in Africa’s smartphone space. Together, these two brands saw their shipments increase by a combined 47.9% year on year in 2018, spurred by their ambitious expansion plans in emerging markets and strong focus on affordable devices.”

Looking ahead, IDC expects Africa’s overall mobile phone market to decline 0.8% year on year in 2019 to total 213.6 million units. Smartphone shipments are forecast to grow 5.4% over this period, spurred by the introduction of more affordable devices in the African market that will help drive progress in this space over the coming years. However, feature phone shipments are expected to decline 5.1% as the shift to smartphone gathers momentum.

Regarding 5G deployments, while several experiments are already underway in the region, IDC expects the commercialization of 5G services to start in most countries by 2020. However, the arrival of 5G and new designs like foldable devices are not expected to create huge momentum in Africa over the short term due to the high price tag that is attached to these devices.

“There is always the possibility of technological leapfrogging in the innovation accelerators domain when Africa’s 5G markets are considered,” says Ramazan Yavuz, a research manager at IDC. “4G-ready devices constituted only 35% all smartphones in 2016 in Africa. Considering 4G-ready devices are expected to surpass 72% of all smartphones by 2020, 5G smartphone penetration could be expected to roll out faster when the prices become more and more affordable after initial launches.” 

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Gadget goes to Hollywood

Gadget spent two days at Netflix studios last week. In the first of a series of articles, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK talks to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is no stranger to Africa. He has travelled throughout South Africa, taught maths in Swaziland for two years with the Peace Corps, and visits close family in Maputo. As a result, he is keenly aware of the South African entertainment and connectivity landscape.

In an exclusive interview at the Netflix studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles last week, he revealed that Netflix had no intentions of challenging MultiChoice’s dominance of live sports broadcasting on the continent.

“Other firms will do sport and news; we are trying to focus on movies and TV shows,” he said. “There are a lot of areas that are video that we are not doing: sports, news, video gaming, user-generated content. We don’t have live sport.

“We’re not replacing MultiChoice at all. Their subscriber growth is steady in South Africa. They serve a need that’s independent of the Internet, via low-price satellite. There is no intention of capturing that audience. If they’re growing, it’s because they serve a need.”

Reed Hastings at the Netflix studios in Hollywood last week. Pic: ADAM ROSE

While Reed ruled out any collaboration with MultiChoice on its satellite delivery platform, despite its collaboration with another pay-TV service, Sky TV in the United Kingdom, he did not close the door. He stressed that Netflix saw itself as an Internet-based service, and would pursue the opportunities offered by evolving broadband in Africa.

“If you look in other markets like the USA, how Comcast carries us on set-top boxes with their other services, it could happen with MultiChoice, the same as with all the pay-TV providers.

“We’re really focused on being a service over the Internet and not over satellite. Our service doesn’t work on satellite. Where we work with Sky is on Internet-connected devices. We’re happy to work on Internet-connected devices. We tend to work on smart TVs, but need broadband Internet for that.

“Broadband is getting faster in Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa – we can see the positive trendlines – so it’s more likely we will work with broadband Internet companies.”

Hastings is a firm believer in the idea that one content provider’s success does not depend on pushing another down.

“HBO has grown at the same time as we have, so can see our success doesn’t determine their success. What matters is amazing content with which the world falls in love.”

Click here to read about Netflix’s international expansion, and how the streaming service selects content for its platform.

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Google announces its ‘Netflix for gaming’

The new gaming platform, Stadia, promises high-definition gaming on TVs, computers, and mobile devices, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Google has announced that it has moved into the gaming space, and it focuses on two big aspects of gaming: streaming of games for gamers, which will allow gamers to game anywhere with a fast, low-latency Internet connection; and audiences that watch gamers in-game.

This is a big move in making gaming accessible to more gamers, as it reduces hardware costs, by utilising the benefits of low-latency cloud computing. This will be achieved by using a globally connected network of Google data centres. Gamers who stream games are most likely already using a high-speed, low-latency Internet connection, so access to the Stadia platform will be an added expense.

Through the Stadia platform, gamers will be able to access a large library of games at all times, with no installation time, on virtually any screen. Scaling of hardware like CPU, GPU, memory, and storage is also possible, as one would for cloud server resources.

Google will be leveraging its other platforms, like YouTube, with Stadia streaming. It claims that 200-million people are watching game-related content daily on YouTube. This allows, for example, Stadia players to jump in with other Stadia players – no downloads, no updates, no patches, and no installs.

For console players, Google has designed a custom controller.

The controller was designed to establish a direct connection from the Stadia controller to Google’s data centre through Wi-Fi for the best possible gaming performance. The controller also includes a button for instant capture, saving, and sharing gameplay in 4K resolution. It sports a Google Assistant button and built-in microphone, as many Google products do, for voice control. 

The device is expected to be released later this year, pending FCC approval.

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