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VENTURES AFRICA – Have you ever thought about how the world is increasingly moving towards an era when the difference between losing your job and retaining it will depend on a smartphone?The world is going mobile and as mobile devices continue to move from voice and data centric mediums to multi-purpose platforms, whether you own a smartphone or not, how fast you can access to your email or the internet to deliver on a project will play a big role in determining the size of your paycheck. But these mobile devices don’t come cheap. In fact, the cheapest smartphone on the Nigerian market costs more than the approved national minimum wage ( 18,000 or about $114). However, that was until the entry of Chinese phone maker, Tecno. Yes, the Chinese have come to Africa’s “rescue”, again!
In recent times, China has invested a lot in Africa and its business relationship with different African countries is peculiar. With Nigeria there is trade in oil, investment in infrastructure and power generation. Recently, Chinese company, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd was contracted to roll out a high-speed 4G network in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. All over sub-Saharan Africa, the story is the same. Sino-African trade is currently put at $200 billion from $9 billion 10 years ago. Also China’s business relationships with various countries are both formalized and informal. The country has entered into various formal agreements on infrastructural development, exploration which drive trade with African countries. However, when Chinese firms such as Tecno enter the market and serve a previously smartphone-excluded-citizenry benefit of the technology, it can be termed: unintended and informal, but a form of empowerment for Africans, in this case Nigerians.
Tecno using the Nigerian market as a formidable pivot in the mobile ecosystem means a lot and needs to be studied for political economy of communication reasons. If the future is mobile, then Tecno seems to be the veritable lead for Nigeria and the reasons are not far-fetched.
Perhaps, the Chinese phone maker’s reason for putting Nigeria into consideration owes to the size of her economy, which is second only to South Africa in Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, Tecno has little or no activity in South Africa. This primes Nigeria for discussions as the Chinese phone maker has heavy activity in Nigeria, especially at the “Ikeja Computer Village”, an ICT hub of the sort in Lagos, Nigeria.
Tecno came into the market with a goal to reduce the entry barrier, making accessibility possible for the lower cadre of the society. They offered mobile devices that function like other tech-enabled phones and can even receive broadcast signal for radio and television. This definitely increased the number of phone users and SIM subscriptions since some of the phones came with a dual SIM option. The story doesn’t end there. Although Tecno is arguably the preferred mobile device of the masses, it isn’t the toast of metropolitan actors who define style and acceptable elements of social aesthetics with the type of mobile device you clutch.
Anyway, Toyota was in this position a couple of economic cycles back and many Asian companies also, but they weathered the storm by doing just one thing – democratising their products. They made their products affordable and offered good quality also. Since then, Toyota has brought many people to the highways. Tecno has the potential to take Nigeria mobile. The Chinese phone maker’s vision is to make “everyone in Nigeria own smartphones” according to an interview with Joe He, Tecno business manager, Operator & Mobile Internet, and to achieve this they have developed a flagship phone, the Tecno N3 Android 2.3.5 smartphone device, which costs 13,500 ($85). Tecno also has the Phantom which costs 35,495 naira ($224) and arguably competes with the big guys: Samsung Galaxy Notes and tabs, HTC and Apple in terms of features and functions.
No doubt, Tecno’s quality doesn’t compare with the other phones, but if customers can use the devices to interact on social media, engage with multimedia activities, take quality pictures, receive email and downloads, what more would they ask for in a country where the average person lives barely above $1.20 daily!
Another argument is this: in the information economy, network effects help firms scale in great ways. Tecno operates on the android OS bringing at par with every android phone maker in this regard. The mobile device space has evolved globally and many mobile technologies are increasingly defining ways people can be competitive. Lacks of access to these technologies foster social exclusion and a digital disenfranchisement of sort, leaving people at the bottom of the ladder, ignorant of opportunities in ICT.
The rapid adoption of ICT’s has proved that the most pervasive means of the reaching the individual is “mobile”. It may then suffice to say that bearing the importance of mobile devices, Africa needs a regime where smartphones that are cheap, highly functional and widespread. For Nigeria, Tecno was the only smartphone maker that could guarantee this. Until the entry of Nigerian-made smartphone, SOLO which promises to bring to emerging markets “the same complete experience Apple used to reshape the industry by bringing iTunes and iPhone together in a complete ecosystem which fundamentally changes the use of mobile,” according to Tayo Ogundipe, CEO Solo Phone Nigeria Ltd.
Samsung’s cheapest smartphone is about 50,000 naira. Apple is strictly elitist, as their latest mobile devices goes for about a $1,000. This sort of pricing doesn’t accommodate a lot of Africans, considering their income and purchasing power parity.
Although there are other phones people can purchase, but can they bridge the knowledge gap?
Africans need smartphones that are affordable, flexible and functional in comparison with other highly prices devices. We need a smartphone that can take us mobile. We need a link into the information economy. Is Tecno that link?
Written by Babatope Falade, a Research Associate with the Knowledge Economy Group, Pan Atlantic University, Lagos