The final two sessions of the 2020 track of AfricaCom - focused on how the 'smart feature phone' will revolutionise the digital landscape in Africa and what will happen when 1bn Africans are connected to the internet - were called 'two of the most underrated of AfricaCom 2018," by African telecommunications specialist Ashley Holling. Here's why.
Why Africa will be home of the next feature phone revolution
In the first session, we heard from the fittingly named Sebastien Codeville, China-based CEO of the KaiOS web-based operating system, which is expressly run on low-cost devices.
The harsh reality.
The young company, founded in June 2016, works on diminishing the digital divide because while instant connectivity is second nature to everyone who will read this article, more than 50% of the global population still doesn’t have access to internet.
Codeville says this is in turn impacts on global inclusion factors like gender equality, democracy, and access to education. That’s why they’re doing what they can to make digital services a reality for all, largely based on bringing down the cost of internet access through cost of both phones and data plans.
Accessible user experience is another important aspect to consider, as voice search is more popular where literacy is low.
Bringing 3G, 4G and 5G internet to 2G devices
Designed for traditional touch handsets, KaiOS is effectively bringing popular apps like Facebook, Google, Youtube and Twitter to feature phones.
But therein lies another problem – once access is ticked off the list, there’s another hurdle to face, as Codeville stated that less than 1% of apps accessed outside of the Western world feature local content.
So there’s a cultural mismatch as much of what’s advertising in Europe and the US just doesn’t make sense in Africa and Asia.
The smart feature phone device
KaiOS' smart feature phone device proposition.
If you’d like to get involved in bringing more local content where it’s needed, there’s an app store option in the Kaistore. Locally, Codeville said to watch for the KaiOS MTN and Orange smart feature phones, launching across the continent next year.
Excited to announce our expansion in Africa - with the KaiOS powered devices, along with the KaiStore! Learn more here. https://t.co/m5XeM3JupJ
Doyen added that it’s often taken for granted that connectivity is “ubiquitous and cheap”, but that price elasticity is so rigid for the rural African – for the users who don’t want to spend 250Mb updating an app.
Or for those who switch off their mobile data settings to avoid high costs.
Where's our Wi-Fi?
The main barriers to connecting the unconnected are access and affordability.
"I never subscribed for that, now all my data is gone!" It's a common call centre complaint, and also the basis of a highlight of the AfricaCom 20/20 track: The keynote address by Dimitris Maniatis, head of Secure-D at Upstream, who revealed the scary reality of smartphone data fraud...
That’s where the BRCK hardware, complete with rugged microserver storage, comes in. Designed in Africa for Africa, it’s ideal for low-infrastructure environments with low internet connectivity.
Even better? It offers free content and connectivity, as they would rather have the users spend the currency they do have – time. They earn points for premium content as well as connectivity that can be redeemed immediately or saved for later by performing micro-tasks on the platform, like filling out surveys or watching sponsored content.
Sharma concluded with the question, what would happen if the unconnected were connected?
Including Africa in the World Wide Web
There are potential positives in almost every sphere of life, from improvement in government services to cutting time queuing thanks to access to mobile banking, as well as economic development due to technological advancement and improved literacy, leading to a more educated continent.
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