Pan African telecom MTN plans to launch two new lowcost smartphones retailing at US$13 and US$20 respectively in South Africa and Nigeria by the first quarter of 2019.
Speaking at the Open Cellular workshop in Nairobi, Kenya, Damein Mariappen, Senior Manager at MTN South Africa said that the phones, called ‘smart feature phones’ will provide rural communities with access to the internet.
The US$13 smartphone will be 3G-enabled and the US$20 device 4G-enabled.
Mariappen said that of the 232 million MTN subscribers, only 72 million had access to internet and the plan is to extend this reach both within the operator’s network and beyond.
However, MTN is looking to partner with smaller players to launch low-cost transmission equipment to be maintained by the local communities.
Governments are urged to support community networks or internet services established and managed by the community.
Michuki Mwangi from the Internet Society Kenya said there were only 37 community networks in 12 African countries and only a fraction of these are able to offer reliable internet connectivity.
“It takes (an) average 3,000 users in a location for a telecom to put up a transmission base,” said Mwangi. “With the mobile network business model, it will take up to 2025 to connect the next billion people in Africa.”
He believes community networks could play a major role in helping to address this problem.
Communities that have set up their own networks benefit by having additional resources to invest into the local economy.
However the lack of funding remains a challenge and Mwangi urged the Universal Service Fund (USF) implemented across various countries in Africa to consider supporting community networks to achieve universal inclusion.