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Kenya gets low-priced smartphone

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Models display the Huawei U8220 Android smart phone during its launch at a Nairobi hotel. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO

Models display the Huawei U8220 Android smart phone during its launch at a Nairobi hotel. Photo/FREDRICK ONYANGO 

By Kui Kinyanjui

Posted  Monday, September 6  2010 at  00:00
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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.

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