Microsoft Corp. plans to start selling a new generation of mobile phones and tablet computers in Africa that run on the U.S. company’s operating systems to tap surging demand for smart handsets on the continent.
Microsoft is working with technology partners based in Shenzhen, China, and plans to introduce the $75 to $100 smartphones this year, Fernando de Sousa, Microsoft’s general manager for Africa Initiatives, said in a Jan. 30 interview in Ghana’s capital, Accra. He declined to give further details about the phone as the product hasn’t been released to the public.
“It will be a global launch,” he said. “Africa will lead in the consumption. Africa is growing smartphone use faster than anywhere in the world.”
Microsoft joins smartphone makers including Beijing-based Lenovo Group Ltd. and Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies Co. in trying to take advantage of a market with rising Internet connectivity. Huawei sold the Huawei 4Afrika phone using Windows two years ago, and Microsoft’s new model will be an “evolution” of that device, according to de Sousa. About one in five Africans were expected to be online by the end of last year -- many using mobile devices -- compared with 10 percent in 2010, according to a 2014 report by Ernst & Young.
MTN Group Ltd. and Vodacom Group Ltd., South Africa’s largest mobile phone companies with a combined 280 million customers in Africa and the Middle East, have developed smartphone devices priced at less than $100 to boost data revenue. They offer a growing middle class access to online retailing, social media and content such as music-streaming.
Microsoft, based in Redmond, Washington, set up its 4Afrika Initiative to sell phones that would be affordable on the continent while investing in education and local technology companies. “The key focus is to provide a great customer experience, full access to cloud services with choice and affordability being taken into consideration,” de Sousa said by e-mail Thursday.
Microsoft is investing in startups to build relevant applications and has developed a partnership with Ghanaian Internet providers to tap unused slices of television spectrum. The program could help provide cheaper mobile-phone Internet to students in Ghana’s Koforidua Polytechnic university, according to de Sousa.
The company then plans to expand the spectrum technology to other universities in Ghana to help students do research and homework online.