iTel Leads the Africa Mobile Phone market, as Feature Phones Make a Comeback

According to the latest Market Monitor report from Counterpoint Research for Q3 2016, the Africa mobile handset market grew by 6% YoY mostly driven by rising demand for feature phones in the continent which grew a healthy 14% YoY when most of the markets globally are seeing greater demand for smartphones.

Counterpoint Research Senior Analyst, Tarun Pathak, commenting on the trends, “Africa is going to be the next big potential battleground for mobile phone vendors in coming years. Africa is one of the largest continent with more than billion population only next to China and India but highly underpenetrated in terms of mobile connectivity. Less than half of the population still doesn’t own a mobile phone and thus offers a great opportunity for every player in the mobile value chain. While the growth potential is enormous, the continent still suffers from a volatile macroeconomic climate, modest per capita income and unstable political conditions in some countries which slowed down the growth in last couple of years.”

Counterpoint Research Analyst Karn Chauhan, added, “As a result of weaker economic climate in some key countries, feature phone sales have made a comeback growing 14% annually becoming one of the fastest growing feature phone market globally as first time mobile phone users continue to rise. Transsion Holdings’ low-cost brand iTel became the number one brand in Africa surpassing Samsung for the first time capturing 20% share of the total mobile phone shipments. Transsion’s key brand Tecno captured 14% share in overall mobile phones whereas its smartphone only brand Infinix moved into top five smartphone rankings capturing 3% of the smartphone sub-segment. Overall Transsion is the biggest mobile phone supplier in Africa with all its brand combined capturing a third of the mobile phone market.

It will be interesting to see if “Nokia branded” phones make a comeback via HMD Global and Foxconn partnership, as Africa will be one of the key markets for HMD Global in near to mid-term.”

Counterpoint Research Analyst Shobhit Srivastava, added, “While feature phone segment grew annually, smartphone segment saw a modest 2% growth annually as the biggest smartphone market in Africa, Nigeria, saw smartphone demand shrink 19% annually due to the high inflationary climate caused by significant currency devaluation since June of this year. The weaker demand in Nigeria market was somewhat offset by stronger growth across other smaller markets such as Kenya, Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, South Africa and many other smaller African countries.

Samsung is still the market leader in smartphone capturing 34% share but down from 43% share as the overall volumes declined 20% annually due to the rise of Huawei, Infinix, Lenovo and long tail Chinese brands. It will be also be critical to see if Tecno can convert its existing feature phone user base to smartphones in next few years as competition from the mature smartphone brands such as Huawei, Lenovo, ZTE, Oppo becomes intense.”

Market Summary:

  • Africa is now bigger mobile phone market than Latin America or USA and in next few years will surpass Europe
  • Africa’s mobile phone user base is still under 50% of the total population and smartphone penetration is still at 22% level which is lowest among major regions and countries
  • However, one out of two mobile phones shipped in Africa were smartphones and in spite of current rise in feature phone demand.
  • One in three smartphones shipped in Africa is LTE capable.

Exhibit 1: Africa Smartphone Shipment Growth by Countries Q3 2016


Vendor Summary:

  • iTel was the number one selling mobile phone brand in Africa. It grew healthily at 50% YoY in the quarter to take the lead. The brand also remained the number one feature phone player in the African market.
  • Samsung the number two player in the Africa mobile phone market has been losing share in the mainly feature phone driven market. The company registered a decline of 31% YoY mainly due to brands focus shift from feature phones to smartphone in the region.
  • Tecno another brand from Transsion Holdings held the third position in the region’s mobile phone market. Together the three Transsion brands iTel, Tecno and Infinix held 34% of the overall mobile phone market, 11% of the smartphone market and almost 60% of total feature phone market
  • Nokia remains in top 5 with its feature phones, although the company registered a 50% decline in shipment as compared to same quarter the previous year. It will be interesting to see if the brand will be able to revive itself with a new breath of life from its new owner HMD.
  • Huawei made it to the top 5 spot with its all smartphone portfolio and is the only brand among the top 5 to sell only smartphones in the region.

Exhibit 2: Africa Mobile Phone Brands Market Share by segments Q3 2016


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The Market Monitor research is based on sell-in (shipments) estimates based on vendor’s IR results, vendor polling triangulated with sell-through (sales), supply chain checks and secondary research.