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Feature phones still dominate Kenya’s handset market in a smartphone age

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By Steve Umidha

Feature phones are still the preferred mobile devices among Kenyans, cementing their dominance in the local handset market despite the popularity of cheap smartphones.

According to the latest statistics by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), a staggering 33, 618, 061 million feature phones were actively in use between October and December last year – representing 68.1 percent subscriptions of such gadgets.

In comparison, only 29, 742, 690 million smartphones, or 60.2 percent of the total cellular phones in the country, were in the hands of Kenyans during the quarter in review. There were 63,360,751 million total mobile phones in use during that period.

A similar upsurge in feature phone subscriptions was also witnessed between April and June 2022, which stood at 32.9 million, representing 55.1 percent market share, compared to smartphone subscriptions which stood at 26.8 million during that quarter, up from 26.0 million in September a year earlier.

The thriving feature phone market is attributed to the long battery life, which comes in handy for personal and work calls and is helpful when traveling to remote areas with frail network connections.

The fact that many users are still not ready to make the switch from feature phones to smartphones is also causing a slowdown in the smartphone market. Though the acceptance of feature phones is widespread in certain user segments, especially those in rural areas where smartphone use is still low due to affordability concerns or illiteracy.

On the other hand users of android smartphones popularly use their devices to browse the web, chat, and view images and videos on social media platforms like WhatsApp and YouTube.

It comes amid the relentless push by telecoms particularly Safaricom Plc. and Telkom Kenya to increase smartphone usage on their network through friendlier purchase terms like ‘Bonga points’ as well as installment payments for 4G-enabled handsets.

In July 2020 for instance, the country’s biggest telecoms operator Safaricom both in customers, mobile money market share, and calls launched a Programme in partnership with Google that allowed its users to pay for 4G-enabled phones in installments, as it sought to increase smartphone usage on its network.

Telkom Kenya in June 2022 unveiled a product financing program that will see customers acquire smartphones via hire purchase. It followed a partnership between the telco – the country’s third largest operator, and the Buy-Now-Pay-Later company Lipa Later.

SIM subscriptions increase after data clean-up drive

Meanwhile, the number of active SIM subscriptions rose significantly during the review quarter following a previous decline which had been occasioned by CA’s demand for data cleanup by mobile operators last year.

Read: Sim registration grew to 65.5million in three months to September 2022

The exercise was intended to decrease cases of digital fraud and cybercrime that have been lush in the local telecommunications sector for eons. Surprisingly, a slightly reduced number of cyber threats were detected in the quarter under review with CA estimating that a whopping 249, 991, 852 million threats particularly malware and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks were identified by Kenyan businesses, compared to more than 278million in the previous quarter.

“The number of mobile subscriptions increased from 65.5 million reported last quarter to 65.7 million during the reference period, representing a penetration rate of 133.1 percent,” noted the CA sector report.

The number of active SIM subscriptions had declined by more than 200,000 in three months to March 2022, which stood at 64.9 million between January and March last year, down from 65.1 million subscriptions the sector had as of December 2021.

During the quarter under review, Safaricom PLC recorded the highest market shares in fixed data subscriptions at 46.1 percent followed by Wananchi Group at 31.1 percent.

Total mobile data or internet subscriptions stood at 47.7 million during that time, out of which 66.8 percent were on mobile broadband. Internet users have embraced higher mobile network generations such as 4G that offer faster speeds that enhance customer experience.

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