UK Company Brings £63 Smartphone To Developing Countries

A British company has developed a low-cost smartphone, which could bring mobile Internet to emerging economies, ahead of the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona

A British company is hoping to benefit from the next wave of mobile adoption in developing nations with the launch of a low-cost smartphone.

The MessagePhone from Synchronica, based in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, will be launched this week and is being targeted at mobile operators in emerging markets such as Africa, Latin America and South-East Asia. The phone could retail for around $99 (£63) and is equipped with web browsing capabilities as well as email and IM.

“With MessagePhone, we have created a device and service bundle that provides an answer to key challenges faced by operators and delivers affordable aspiration for customers in emerging markets,” said Carsten Brinkschulte, chief executive of Synchronica. “For the operators, we have delivered a messaging-centric handset that puts them back in control of their subscriber base – they can brand the product and use the services to reduce churn.”

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According to Brinkschulte, the Messagephone could fill a gap in emerging markets, which often have evolved mobile networks but little wired telecoms infrastructure capable of supporting PC Internet access. “For subscribers, MessagePhone can become their first and primary Internet device – a great phone with a large screen and full Internet access without breaking the bank, potentially replacing the trek to the Internet cafe,” he said.

A joint project with Korean Device Manufacturer KC Mobile, the MessagePhone is available in a basic QS150 model and the better equipped QS200. “The Java-enabled MessagePhone handsets feature a full QWERTY keyboard, large color LCD screen, MP3 and MPEG4 player, camera, SD memory expansion, a robust Personal Information Manager, optional Bluetooth connectivity, USB connector and a built-in FM radio,” the companies said.

Nick Jotischky, principal analyst at Informa, said the MessagePhone could help operators in developing markets that are seeing a similar drop-off in voice-revenues witnessed in developing markets. “The device-centric solution provides benefits to operators desperate to offset falling voice revenues by increasing the size of revenues generated from data services, and to retain existing customers at a time when users are becoming more fickle,” he said.

The MessagePhone’s data and Internet capabilities could see it compete with low-cost laptops aimed at developing countries such as the OLPC XO device and the Cherrypal Africa Intel Atom-equipped PC.

A report released last year by Strategy Analytics revealed that in emerging markets, wireless subscriber numbers have continued to grow, despite reductions in minutes used and lowered wireless revenue for mobile operators, resulting from the global recession. In “A Q1 Look at Emerging Markets: It Could Be Worse,” report author Tom Elliot assessed the first-quarter 2009 performance of 12 emerging market mobile operators and found that most were seeing steady subscriber counts, if not considerable growth.

IBM and Vodafone are working together with healthcare specialist Novartis and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership to develop a project that uses mobile SMS and web technology to improve the availability of anti-malarial drugs in remote areas of Tanzania.


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