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Launch of Samung’s Galaxy Tab will spark the beginning of device wars with Africa’s mobile operators offering tablets

Global Voice Group - An Apology

In an article entitled; "Life in Africa's Slow Lane- Congo Telecom and Socatel Defend Their International Voice Monopolies, Disapora Callers Ask Why?" published in 491, readers of Balancing Act's News Update might have believed we were alleging Global Voice Group assisted in the commission of fraud by a group we described as "a mafia," adopts anti-competitive practices by taking over all the international phone traffic in Congo and encourages African Governments to impose taxes on incoming calls. We would like to make it clear that it was not our intention to suggest this. We accept that these allegations are false and apologize to Global Voice Data Group for any misunderstandings which may have arisen and any damage our publication may have caused.

 

Launch of Samung’s Galaxy Tab will spark the beginning of device wars with Africa’s mobile operators offering tablets

Three million iPads sold by Apple in 80 days is big news in Europe and the USA but something of a distant echo in Africa. However, this week with the launch of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab look-alike and a demonstration of it in Soweto, tablet news may be coming to Africa in a big way. Samsung has the market share with mobile operators in Africa in a way that Apple has not. Russell Southwood looks at what will become the beginning of tablet device wars in Africa.

The early signs of change are all there. At least two key executives in Kenyan broadcasting have iPads and nearly all the senior managers of a well-known continental broadcast player have them. The early adopters are out there and they are increasingly visible now that iPhone sitings are becoming a more or less every day event in the bigger markets. But there have been three developments recently that may signal the beginning of tablet device wars:

* This week Samsung launched its Galaxy Tab tablet device and a demonstration of it took place in Soweto. South Korea’s Samsung may not have quite the market share of the mobile handsets that Nokia still does in South Africa but it has a significant chunk in many African countries. Other vendors have released iPad look-a-likies but none of them so far has had much of a potential retail footprint in Africa.

The Galaxy Tab has a seven-inch touch-screen that is slightly smaller than the iPad's, and uses Google's Android 2.2 operating system. Google Android phones are currently even further back in the field than iPhones in Africa in terms of numbers but in time both will become as significant as Blackberries among Africa’s chattering classes. It weighs 0.8 pound (lighter than the iPad) and is set for a mid-September launch. Tablets give users video, music, games, Internet and electronic books. It will employ Samsung's "Reader's Hub" for e-books and the "Media Hub" for music and videos. It supports Flash video and will be able to stream content to a TV.

It will be launched in Europe in October and rolled out to other markets thereafter. Vodafone has announced that it will distribute the device through its European operations so it’s reasonable to guess that Vodacom might follow some point thereafter.

* Last week Orange Senegal launched the iPad as part of its offer and obviously subject to sales, this is likely to be the beginning of a roll-out across its Africa operations. According to Fernand Adjahossou, Commercial Director of its distribution network, this launch is a first for Africa but not quite as we will see below.

Nevertheless, it is a significant move by a company that likes to offer its customers multiple ways of getting at the Internet and TV programming. The 200 invitees to the launch were told by Adjahossou that iPad users could connect in many places via the companies network of Wi-Fi hot-spots and that the device represented “grande valeur” (big value) given its many functionalities.

* Almost without fanfare, Orange’s deadly rival in Botswana, Mascom Wireless, pipped it to the post by offering iPads in a bundle with Mi-Fi wireless devices. Now the latter may well be a first from a mobile operator on the continent. The iPad was part of a roll-out that included smartphones like the Samsung M40 and various Blackberry Curves designed to combat Orange’s distribution deal for iPhones.

The Mi-Fi is a small device that connects homes (or indeed anywhere you take it subject to coverage) to mobile data networks and has the potential to create a local cloud with five users. The device was launched by Novatel Wireless in May 2009. Like many of the new connectivity devices, it claims to be “plug-and-play”.

The package comes in three capacity bundles as Botswana follows its larger South African neighbour in “slicing and dicing” its retail offers. None of these offers are cheap: Easy with a 3GB capacity costs US$115; Pro with a 5GB capacity costs US$144; and Executive with a 10 GB capacity costs US$187. The names of the bundles clearly signal the intended target audience.

However, like all devices, they will begin to cascade down to lower value consumers over time. An inkling of where this might go comes from a gift given to us by someone very senior in an ICT ministry in Africa who had just returned from China. It was a tablet device running Google Android in a box with a picture of an Apple iPad on the front. It has a smaller screen and fairly limited battery life but the wholesale cost being offered at volume was US$40-60. So it won’t take long for Chinese to produce significantly cheaper look-a-likies that actually work well. So watch this space…

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