MTN Group to sell ‘smart feature phones’ early next year

MTN Group has partnered with China Mobile, chipmaker Unisoc and feature phone operating system, KaiOS, to bring affordable 3G ‘smart feature phones’ to the African market in the first few months of 2019.

MTN group CEO/President Rob Shuter made the announcement at a press briefing in Cape Town along with executives from the partner groups.

“Our collaboration has been to design the world’s first 3G smart feature phone,” Shuter said.

Shuter said the group aims to make the phones available across almost all of its operations in Africa and the Middle East from the first quarter of 2019. The 3G smart feature phone will initially be available in Nigeria and South Africa, followed very shortly by the other MTN operations. The telco aims to sell 10 million devices over the next three years.

“This device is very familiar to our 150 million customers who are not yet on a smartphone. It has a keyboard, it doesn’t have a touch-screen, and a very long battery life, which is important for many of our customers that still struggle with regular recharging of devices,” he added.

The phone will run the KaiOS operating system, which means it will have all of the key Google applications, including search, Google Maps, Google Assistance and YouTube, as well as Facebook and Twitter. MTN will also pre-load the MTN Mobile Money app onto the phone “bringing MTN customers into the world of mobile financial services” and the MyMTN self-service app.

“It will be a very easy transition for our customers from a basic phone to the world of a smart feature phone and suits very well the data coverage that we have across many of our markets,” Shuter added.

The device will give a smartphone-like 3G experience to users who usually only have access to feature phones running on 2G.

“We will definitely deploy the device in SA. Even though SA is more advanced in terms of smartphone penetration and 4G penetration, we still have a big segment of customers on basic phones. If I look at MTN SA, of the about 30 million active SIMs on the network, we only have about 14 million or 15 million active data users, so that is about half of the base that has still not entered the data world,” Shuter said.

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