How will US-China technology decoupling affect the African mobile phone market? | Techy Kings


The growing population of the African continent is increasingly connected to the Internet. 2019-2021 Internet usage in Africa increased by 23 percent. However, only about 33 percent of the population are active Internet users, leaving about 900 million people without the Internet’s digital dividend. While several factors contribute to Africa’s digital divide, the prospect of a technology decoupling between the US and China could create additional complexities that could affect Africa’s digital transformation as the world’s two leading economies consider eliminating or restoring at least some technology-related supply chains. .

Jane Munga

Jane Munga is a fellow at the Africa Program focusing on technology policy.

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Tensions between the United States and China over digital technology are growing and have far-reaching implications for Africa’s digital economy, from infrastructure and platforms to hardware. Like other regions of the world, the continent must contend with the consequences of high-powered competition for its digital agenda. However, African countries must consider the prospects of such decoupling alongside China’s significant investment and dominance in telecommunications infrastructure.

Denwood rises

Kyla Denwood is a research assistant in the Carnegie Africa Program.

Africa, a mobile-first continent, has the highest number of mobile phones connecting to the Internet. About 70 percent of Africans access the Internet using mobile devices (see Figure 1) rather than desktop or tablet computers.

A large number of these mobile phones are from registered sellers in China (see Figure 2). Of the forty-two vendors with market share on the mainland, nineteen are registered in China, while only four are registered in the United States. Chinese brands not only have a larger market share, but also offer a variety of phones specifically designed for African consumers. Among the Chinese variants, Huawei and Tecno are the most popular mobile phone brands. Tecno, a brand rarely known outside the continent, was specially developed by Chinese firm Transsion to penetrate the African market. Its features drive local nuances of technical design, such as image clarity and pricing for cameras with darker skin types.

In light of this, it is clear that the consequences of the US-China technology decoupling will have consequences for African consumers. Some mobile users are already feeling the effects of technology decoupling. in 2019 The US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security has added Huawei and its related companies to its entity list. The list identifies foreign organizations that restrict their ability to export certain goods to the United States. Adding Huawei to the entity list prevents the company from doing business with US technology companies such as Google and those operating in US trading partner markets without US government approval. Google has been banned from including Gmail, Google Maps, YouTube or the Play Store on Huawei phones. As such, mobile phone users using Huawei devices manufactured after 2019 have to contend with limited access to basic mobile applications, depleting the digital dividend of such devices for millions of Africans across the continent.

The technology decoupling between the US and China has not only limited access to mobile apps, but also fueled active political conversations, particularly about the future of the Internet. In multilateral organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), there is a need for African policymakers to engage with digital foreign policy in discussions on Internet standards. For example, in 2019 At a meeting of the ITU Telecommunications Standardization Advisory Group, China Mobile, China Unicom, Huawei, and China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology proposed the standardization of a new set of Internet protocols (called “New IP”). until 2030 would support the new internet. The ten African countries that make up the continental front supported the proposal. The proposal for “New IP” slowed down when the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the conversation about the future of the Internet has continued to generate debate, research and political alignments, leading African countries to take a more uneven and cautious approach to the issue. This is evident from the US-led Declaration on the Future of the Internet, which was signed by only three African countries (Cape Verde, Kenya and Niger), although one of those countriesKenya) said her signature was added prematurely, before government officials made a formal decision.

Even as the debate between Sino-American companies on US-China decoupling continues, there is plenty of room for further action across the continent’s telecommunications industry, particularly in mobile technology. The demand for mobile devices in the continent is expected to increase along with the increase in internet access, which will provide huge opportunities for telecom companies. As Africa is a mobile-first continent, it is expected that the mobile economy will continue to contribute to the socio-economic growth of the continent. Mobile technology in sub-Saharan Africa is predicted to grow by 2025. will increase economic activity by 155 billion USD, and in 2020 in total will increase from 130 billion USD (which accounts for 8 percent of GDP). The same Global Mobility System report estimates that sub-Saharan Africa will have will have 120 million new mobile subscribers (from 495 million in 2020 to 615 million), a shift largely driven by the continent’s growing youth population. population. The UN predicted that by 2040 Africa’s population will increase by 50 percent. Of the expanded population, the majority (53%) will be under the age of twenty-five. This young population will drive demand for mobile phones and create opportunities for US mobile companies to increase their market share in African economies.

The recently announced US strategy for sub-Saharan Africa outlines a new American vision for the region. The main focus of the strategy is on strengthening trade and commercial relations with African countries; it identifies digital transformation as one approach that “both aligns with US priorities and . . . needs of African partners”. The strategy enables American tech giants to provide affordable mobile devices to African consumers in support of the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa, Smart Africa’s Digital Economy Blueprint and other national digital strategies across the continent.

Africa’s mobile phone market is one area where the technology decoupling between the US and China will be evident, an industry that is at the heart of Africa’s digital transformation. Demand for mobile devices across the continent will enable mobile phone vendors to determine how millions of Africans connect to the internet and access digital services. This latent demand also means that Africa’s population is projected to increase by 2050. will reach 2.5 billion people, could determine the future of these global technology companies.


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