Vodacom, SA’s largest mobile phone operator, shipped over 170, 000 own-branded tablets in the last quarter of 2014, according to a report from global research firm IDC.

This has helped the Middle East and Africa (MEA) tablet market  to record robust year-on-year growth in the final quarter of 2014, rising 26.1% year on year to total 4.43 million units.

“The telco channel experienced its highest ever rate of growth during the final quarter of 2014,” says Victoria Mendes, a research analyst at IDC Middle East, Africa, and Turkey. “There are a couple of reasons behind this growth – in South Africa, Vodacom, one of the biggest telecom operators in the country, introduced its own tablet and shipped approximately 170,000 units during the quarter, while in Turkey, local vendor Casper shipped around 100,000 tablets through the telco channel.”

Samsung continue to be a leading vendor of tablets in MEA, with the Korean giant shipping a total of 886,000 units to the region in the qaurter. And despite suffering a decline of 11%, Apple retained second place in the market, with shipments totaling 580,000 units.

Lenovo remained in third position, but with year-on-year unit growth of 100% and volumes totaling 572,000 units for the quarter, the vendor is extremely likely to overtake Apple at some point during 2015. Asus maintained its fourth position despite shipments falling 7% to 206,000 units, while Turkish vendor Casper increased its shipments 80% to 180,000 units on the back of strong growth in the consumer and education segments.

IDC said the MEA tablet market is still forecast to post double-digit growth for 2015 as a whole, while other regions around the world will experience much bigger slowdowns or even declines.

“The consumer segment will remain the major contributor to this growth, but we also expect to see a huge contribution from the commercial segment in 2015, with education deals being a major driver.”

Vodacom and MTN are bringing own-branded devices, such as tablets and smartphones, into South Africa as part of their ambitious plans to accelerate Internet uptake. This is a big gamble for the two mobile giants as they make their entry into the highly-competitive market for branded devices.

Internet is meant to improve the lives of people and facilitate access to economic opportunities and social welfare. A number of South Africans cannot access the Internet nor afford premium tablets, such as Ipad’s, Samsung’s, Lenovo, etc. that are in a north of R4 000.

Mobile operators have realised that growth in voice telephony is dwindling and they are making a plan to migrate customers to data usage. They are hoping that by developing their own low-cost branded devices they will drive subscriber growth and diversify revenue generation.

In short, mobile giants are attempting to utilise low-cost devices to fuel growth in the Internet space and uptake of smart devices. But they still need to drop the prices from $50 to a range of $25-$20 to make it more attractive to customers.

The market for smart devices is big and promises to generate billions for mobile operators and manufactures.

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