A recent report by CounterPoint Research states that South Africa's smartphone shipments increased by 7% in 2018 as compared to the year 2017. The increase has been attributed to affordable smartphones being available among other reasons.

Another interesting reason that the report by Counterpoint Research gives for the growth is supposedly cheaper 4G mobile data plans that have recently become available in South Africa through telecommunications companies such as rain.

“Affordability has been a key reason for rising smartphone sales in South Africa. Major smartphone brands like Samsung, Mobicel, and Huawei are offering adequate specifications and features in entry-level smartphone models. The efforts of the OEMs have been helped by the push for 4G mobile internet by telecom operators. By providing discounted bundles and tariff plans to urban as well as rural users, 4G services are now broadeCommenting on the overall market, Tarun Pathak, Associate Director at Counterpoint Research.

Source: Counterpoint Research Market Monitor.

Leading smartphone brands in South Africa

What is notable is that out of 40 smartphone brands who sell their products in South Africa, Mobicel became the second largest smartphone brand in South Africa during 2018 as its market share rose to 16% from 6% in 2017, with Samsung still the leading brand.

What makes Mobicel remarkable as the second largest mobile phone brand in South Africa is that it started out as a reseller of used phones and then moved into selling its own brand of affordable smartphones that run Google's Android operating system. This is not much different to how China's Transsion Holdings managed to become one of the largest smartphone manufacturers in Africa with its 3 brands of affordable smartphones.

“Mobicel’s Astro was the top-selling smartphone in South Africa during 2018 and helped the company raise its market share. The affordability and the features of the phone made it popular in the South African market. Mobicel Astro uses the Android Go Edition, a trimmed down version of Android for entry-level smartphones. In fact, three out of the top five smartphones sold in South Africa in 2018 use Android Go. Apart from Mobicel Astro, the Nokia 1 and Samsung Galaxy J2 Core are the other two entry-level smartphones in the top five using Android Go," said Karn Chauhan, Research Analyst at Counterpoint Research.

Highlights of the South African smartphone market

  • In terms of smartphone operating systems, Android dominates with a market share of 92% followed by Apple iOS’ with a market share of 7% in 2018.
  • The top five smartphone brands capture almost 80% of the total market.
  • Mobicel was the only local brand to make it to the top five list by market share.
  • Huawei grew its market share to 15% in 2018 from 9% in 2017. Its growth was helped by the launch of smartphones across all price points. Huawei P20 Lite, Y5 Prime (2018) and Y7 (2018) were the star models which drove its market share.
  • Hisense increased its market share to 10% in 2018 from 8% in 2017.
  • Competition in the entry-level segment is set to intensify as MTN is planning to launch a smart feature phone. It is targeting entry-level smartphone users as well as feature phone users looking for an affordable device with high-speed internet capabilities.
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