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From China to Africa with smartphone

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It is no longer disputable that the smartphone is the new battlefield for digital wars. That is how far-sighted Charles Arthur put it in his 2012 bestseller book, Digital Wars.

The personal computer lost it to smartphones in the fourth quarter of 2010. In that quarter, PC sales descended from the peak of 100 million shipments to 93 million downhill paving the way to fast-paced smartphones.

Fast f orward 2016, PC sales have not resuscitated. Only 260 million PCs were shipped in 2016. Out of that figure, the Chinese Lenovo was responsible for 55.5 million shipments, which represented a market share of 21.3 percent. HP chomped 21 percent of the market cake.

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According to International Data Corporation (IDC), in the third quarter of 2016 alone, 363.2 million smartphones were shipped worldwide and 86.8 percent of that figure consisted Android smartphones. In 2015, 1.1 billion smartphones were sold worldwide.

It is estimated that in Sub-Sahara Africa alone; there are 14 smartphones for every computer that exists. What that means is that we have a generation of people that have never used a PC but have been converted into the digital creed by smartphone evangelism.

This is the market that Chinese white box smartphone manufacturers are tapping into.

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According to the paper, “The Evolution of China’s Mobile Phone Industry and Good-enough Innovation” by Shin-Horng and Pei-Chang Wen, Shanzhai handset makers are often associated with notorious companies that engage in banditry, piracy and illegal network access.

The paper continues to state that Shanzhai (also called guerilla handsets or whitebox Chinese phones) are accused of brand imitation in appearance, design and brand naming.

Most of these phones are packaged as 3G smartphones when they are actually 2G with mediocre internet connections and speeds. I tested one; packaged exactly like Microsoft Lumia 540; the phone runs Android OS that mimics Windows 8.1; the tiles (icons) are a replica of Windows Phone.

After two minutes of usage, I noticed that the apps ran slow and dragged. The promised 3G internet linked me to 2G internet conduit and there was no ecstasy.

That is the bad news. The good news is that these fake smartphones are good enough for a sector of the economy that falls in the lower tiers of the economy. For them, these phones are affordable and good looking. They make calls, SMS and WhatsApp is difficult.

Google’s Android is an open OS; godsent manna for the Chinese Shanzhai handset makers. They do not need to fork out $15 for Windows Phone license. Google doesn’t mind guerilla phones.

The Chinese white box smartphone manufacturers are slowly learning the tricks of the trade; many of them are migrating into smart business models and are producing cheap but decent 3G handsets.

So, what shall we call this; from China to Africa, not with love, but with a smartphone. I rest my case.

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