Owning a quality smartphone in Africa a few years ago was something only for the rich and the lucky. Today, at a price of less than 100$, (and thanks to competition, even as low as 70$) and with prices dropping fast, many African consumers no longer see them as an exclusively luxury item.

Over one-third of the continent’s 1.1 billion population owns a mobile phone and it is expected that this year, the smartphone market will grow by over 40% (up from a penetration of 15%), putting 70 million new smartphones in circulation. A recent study by Deloitte (published on February 16) showed that by 2017, an expected 350 million smartphones will be in use. These will be connected to rapidly expanding broad-band infrastructures that are being installed to keep up with the demand, and will go hand in hand with a boom in digital content, internet access and mobile-phone paying services, the latter of which are growing in popularity.

In fact, 52% of the world’s mobile cash transactions take place in Africa according to the study, and more than half of these occur in East Africa, with a further quarter taking place in South Africa and Senegal.

In such countries, owning a mobile phone is just as good as having a bank account, only with less paperwork, queues, trips to the city-centre and more ready cash-on-hand. It doesn’t come as a surprise therefore that many low-income earners are more willing to transact over a GSM network than through chequebooks and credit cards, especially if the little deposits they make cannot afford them such banking services.

In a decade where competition is stiff for high-end smartphones manufacturers, traditional mobile companies will find a welcoming market for quality low-end smartphones in Africa. Moreover, with a characteristically young population, the need for the maintenance and servicing of these new technologies can be realised on African soil, thus bringing with it many new jobs and skills.

Jotham Muriu Njoroge has a Bachelors degree in Architecture from the University of Nairobi. He is currently studying an undergraduate degree at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome.