MWC: MTN 'smart feature phones' available soon

Read time 3min 10sec
The MTN and KaiOS smart feature phone on display in Barcelona.
The MTN and KaiOS smart feature phone on display in Barcelona.

The KaiOS Technologies-powered MTN 'smart feature phone' will soon be available. This is according to execs from KaiOS, speaking to ITWeb during an interview on the side-lines of Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 in Barcelona.

In November 2018, MTN announced the partnership with the feature phone operating system, KaiOS, as well as China Mobile and chipmaker Unisoc to bring affordable 3G 'smart feature phones' to the African market.

At the time, MTN promised the phones would be available in the first quarter of 2019 and would initially come to Nigeria and South Africa, followed by the other MTN operations.

No official date has yet been given for when the phones will hit SA stores but Tim Metz, marketing director for KaiOS, told ITWeb the "devices are not in the market yet but should be launching soon". He could not confirm which country would get them first.

David Bang, KaiOS VP for business development for the Americas, said KaiOS would like to bring more of its smart feature phones to Africa and would be interested in doing deals with other South African operators.

This week at MWC, Orange announced it would roll out its own 'Sanza' smart feature phone with KaiOS and Unisoc to 16 countries in Africa and the Middle-East.

The KaiOS operating system (OS) already has more than 80 million active users in over 100 countries. Its mission is to help close the digital divide by bringing mobile connectivity to the billions of people without the Internet in emerging markets.

"We want to continue talking to more operators, more handset manufacturers and really try to expand to as many countries as we can. We are still a small team; we are only 280 people most of which are engineers, so we cannot go everywhere all at once, it's unrealistic, but we are going to continue expanding at our own pace and try to expand our reach," Bang added.

According to research by the GSM Association, the $100-$200 price tag of a smartphone prevents 64% of people in Africa from upgrading their phones to 3G/4G devices that can access the Internet.

The MTN and Orange phones will cost around $20 (R280) per phone.

MTN group CEO and president Rob Shuter said at the November launch that the telco aims to sell 10 million devices over the next three years.

KaiOS comes with all of the key Google applications, including search, Google Maps, Google Assistance and YouTube, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Last week, KaiOS announced six new partners in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya, SA and Tanzania would launch mobile phones running on its operating system.

These new smart feature phones will be available for direct purchase by end-users who have their own SIM cards, or as part of bundled packages with local mobile operators.

They will go to market from the second quarter of the year through distribution agreements with the following partners: Accent in Morocco; Bomare in Algeria, whose products are branded as Stream System; Condor in Algeria; Eric Beare Associates, which is a Hong Kong-based company operational in Egypt, SA and other African markets; Maya Global Network, which is operational across Africa particularly in Kenya and Tanzania; and Sico in Egypt.

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