Feature phones have cemented their dominance of Kenya’s handset market amid the fall in the price of smartphones that was expected to lift the sale of digital gadgets.
The latest industry data from the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) shows feature phone subscriptions stood at 32.9 million in the year to June, representing 55.1 percent market share.
This comes amid the push by telecoms firms such as Safaricom to increase smartphone usage on their network through friendlier purchase terms such as instalment payments for 4G-enabled handsets.
Smartphone subscriptions stood at 26.8 million in June, up from 26.0 million in September 2021.
The feature phones’ dominance has been attributed to the affordability and ease of use in zones with poor Internet connectivity, especially in rural Kenya.
“The total number of mobile phones connected to mobile networks as of June 30 was 59.7 million, with feature phones and smartphones accounting for 32.9 million and 26.8 million, respectively,” the CA said in the report.
Safaricom is partnering with Google to allow its customers to pay for 4G-enabled phones in instalments.
The company said in 2020 the partnership aimed to switch about 4.0 million 2G and 3G phones to 4G.
It is ramping up its data business to offset a decline in mobile calls, where it has seen a small revenue fall due to saturation.
Phone makers like Huawei and Samsung are also keen to take advantage of Africa’s smartphone growth potential, which analysts suggest will continue to boom as cheaper phones accelerate penetration.
Over the past five years, phone makers have touted new, low-cost devices which are intended to retail at near Sh8,000 or below.
This class of device has some but not all the features of the current top-end smartphones, which sell for tens of thousands of shillings.
Early leaders in the low-end smartphone market are Chinese players, some with global brand names and others who remain virtually unknown outside China.
They have made huge strides in acquiring the technical and design expertise that enables them to now drive down the costs without necessarily sacrificing quality.