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Digital Inclusion

Econet launches Zimbabwe's first 3G smart feature phone

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Econet Wireless is rolling out Zimbabwe's first 3G smart feature phone in an attempt to help more Zimbabweans access the Internet and become digitally included.

The Atom 3G smart feature phone runs on the KaiOS mobile operating system, which was designed to help address key barriers to Internet access like device and data affordability as well as digital literacy.

This new category of affordable phones is becoming popular across the continent and over the past two years different versions have been rolled out across several markets by big mobile operators such as Orange and MTN. KaiOS enables the hybrid phones that require limited memory but give users a better experience as well as access to the Internet and popular apps.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has made life difficult for people in Zimbabwe. We want to help them get online, communicate with their loved ones locally and abroad via WhatsApp, Sasai or regular cellular voice calls. We also want our customers to access valuable content at this time, such as medical tips and advice," said Econet Wireless Zimbabwe's chief commercial officer Navdeep Kapur.

Econet dominates the mobile market in Zimbabwe with about 70% market share at the end of March 2020 and about 9.5 million mobile users, according to market intelligence from market research company Omdia.

The Atom 3G smart feature phone
The Atom 3G smart feature phone

Econet said the new handset will be available at half the average price of a basic Android smartphone sold in Zimbabwe.

"The phone has a 2.4-inch display, 512MB of storage and supports a microSD card. It also comes with a powerful 1,500mAh battery that enables long and extended hours of talk time. Atom 3G is priced at a level that is affordable for the millions of Zimbabweans who may not have the resources for a traditional smartphone, and we have included three months of free data as well to on-board new users and help them to access the mobile Internet, said Kapur.

Digital inclusion is still an ongoing process in Zimbabwe. According to a recent report from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), the Internet penetration rate in the country was only 59.1% in the first quarter of 2020. However, the mobile penetration rate had increased to reach 94.2% for the quarter.

The POTRAZ report also showed that WhatsApp usage constitutes 40.5% of the total mobile Internet and data usage in the country.

The Atom 3G device also supports Google Assistant, which is especially useful for the less digitally literate users to easily interact with the device using voice commands. Other essential apps supported include WhatsApp, Google Maps, YouTube, Facebook, and an in-house app called Life, which offers digital skills training and other educational material. These can be accessed on the phone from the KaiStore, which houses over 600 other data-lite apps.

KaiOS is the third-largest mobile operating system in the world, with more than 135 million devices shipped in over 150 countries.

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Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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