The quest for control of Kenya’s rapidly growing mobile Internet market has intensified with the launch by Chinese technology firm Huawei of a competitively priced smartphone that runs on Google’s Android operating system.
Retailing at just Sh8,000, the Huawei IDEOS is the cheapest smartphone in the Kenyan market and is expected to deepen the penetration of Internet among the estimated 20 million Kenyan consumers of mobile phone services.
Internet access has become the new battleground for Kenya’s four telecoms operators following the recent plummeting in voice call tariffs and the resulting decline in its importance as a revenue driver.
Kenya has six million Internet users a large portion (four million) of who accesses it through their mobile phones that is considered to be more affordable by most consumers because it cuts down the cost of acquisition to a tiny fraction of the closest competitors.
The smartphones, however, remains dominated by highly-priced models that sell at an average of Sh30,000 placing it above the reach of the majority of consumers.
“The IDEOS is an affordable option, designed to lower barriers to entry and facilitate easy mobile Internet access,” said Kevin Tao, the CEO of Huawei Device. “Ownership of the smartphone is one of the key means of getting people into the ‘golden age of mobile broadband’,” he said.
The IDEOS is a touch-screen phone that comes with bluetooth connectivity, GPS, a 3.2-megapixel camera, up to 16GB of storage and can be transformed into a 3G Wi-Fi hotspot connecting up to eight devices.
Many Kenyans are more familiar with Huawei modems, which they use to connect to the Internet through PCs or lap tops.
The IDEOS is the latest in a string of devices the Chinese firm has rolled out aiming to capture a share of the growing consumer internet market.
Smartphones are expected to account for 37 per cent of the global mobile phone market by 2014, with the Middle East and Africa as the main drivers of the growth.
Mobile Internet access is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 39 per cent in the next four years.
In Kenya, mobile Internet use grew by over 180 per cent in past 12 months, according to consumer research firm Synovate.
The IDEOS’ entry into Kenya comes only two months after Huawei teamed up with Safaricom in high profile launch of yet another smartphone U220 that also runs on Google’s Android.
This time around, there is industry speculation that the new phone will be marketed by internet firm Google, which is today launching its big marketing push aimed at boosting its presence in Kenya.
Google’s Android operating system allows users to ride on its Open Source development platform, offers users more than 70,000 applications and a cheap alternative to Google’s Nexus originally developed to compete with Apple’s iPhone.
Google is expected to unveil the key components of its mobile Internet strategy at the opening of the G-Kenya conference, where the global Internet giant will engage with local software developers, entrepreneurs, and computer science students.
Google is also expected to showcase a range of products aimed at driving innovation in local technology and business circles.
“In alignment with our core mission to organise the entire world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, we would like to provide training on localised tools that can spur economic development for the people of Kenya,” Google said in a statement.
G-Kenya is expected to bring together over 1,200 software engineers, product managers, entrepreneurs, students and web developers to discuss the future of applications development, and be trained on Google’s products and online business skills.
The forum will feature high profile Google speakers including one of the internet giant’s vice presidents Nelson Mattos, a team of product developers, engineers, the head of marketing for Africa, search specialists, and business marketing gurus.
Mr Mattos is Google’s VP in charge of product and engineering.
Google entered the Kenyan market in 2007, but has mostly played an observer role even as the country deepened its foray into new technologies such as mobile Internet.
The path of internet access growth in Kenya has been largely determined by the lack of fixed PC internet connections that has forced the consumers to rely on their mobile phones.
Industry researcher RNCOS says the number of mobile subscribers in Kenya will grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 15 per cent between 2010 and 2013 to reach 32 million by the end of 2013, representing a penetration rate of 72 per cent.
Kenya is said to be on the verge of becoming one of the fastest growing broadband markets in the continent, RNCOS says, with research pointing to the number of Internet users and broadband subscribers growing at a rate of nearly 130 per cent in the next two years.
Available in black, yellow, blue, and purple, the IDEOS supports functions such as voice dialling, voice navigation, and the ability to run applications off the SD card.
Mr Tao said the name “IDEOS” embodies creativity and inspiration: the “ID” represents the industrial design-centric hardware platform, the “OS” represents the operating system as the core software platform, and the “E” symbolises the evolution to mobile Internet.