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Africa's Smartphone Market Back in Growth Mode: IDC

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Africa's smartphone market grew in 2018 for the first time in three years, according to IDC.

The market research firm says that while the global smartphone market suffered a blip, the market in Africa grew year-on-year for the first time since 2015, with the number of smartphones shipped across the continent rising by 2.3% to 88.2 million. The growth was "spurred by the strong performance of the continent's three biggest markets -- Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt," noted IDC in a media statement.

However, the total number of mobile devices shipped to Africa last year did decline, by 1.9% to 215.3 million, as feature phone demand weakened. Overall, feature phones accounted for 59% of total shipments, or 127.1 million units, while smartphones accounted for 41%.

IDC notes that 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, market growth was driven by local brands such as Mobicel and Stylo, which have developed " ultra-low-end smartphones" as well as feature phones.

And across Africa, the major global brands are trailing their more specialist rivals. Transsion, which markets its devices under the Tecno, Infinix and Itel brands, led Africa's feature phone market last year with a market share of 58.7%. The Nokia brand was a long way behind in second place, with a market share of just 9.6%.

Transsion, Samsung and Huawei were the dominant brands in terms of smartphone unit shipments, commanding market shares of 34.3%, 22.6% and 9.9% respectively. However, IDC notes that in "value terms, Samsung led the smartphone space with 36.9% share," while Transsion held 20.2% and Huawei 12.4%.

A Tecno mobile phone store in Nairobi, Kenya.
A Tecno mobile phone store in Nairobi, Kenya.

In total, African mobile device brands accounted for 14.3% of all units shipped in 2018, about the same as Chinese brands, "excluding Transsion, which is primarily focused on serving Africa and accounted for a significant 48.7% of the total market's volume in 2018," noted IDC.

"A new wave of local/regional brands are emerging across the continent," stated 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."

IDC expects another year of decline in total shipments in 2019, forecasting a dip of 0.8% to 213.6 million units, though once again this is expected to be due to slowing demand for feature phones, with that segment set to decline in units shipped by 5.1%. The smartphone market, meanwhile, is expect to grow by 5.4%, "spurred by the introduction of more affordable devices in the African market that will help drive progress in this space over the coming years."

IDC doesn't expect to see any impact in Africa from 5G any time soon: 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." Those prices are currently above US$2,000 per device.

"There is always the possibility of technological leapfrogging in the innovation accelerators domain when Africa's 5G markets are considered," noted IDC Research Manager Ramazan Yavuz. "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."

— Ray Le Maistre, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading for Connecting Africa.

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