Africell and Industry Five are launching a pilot project that will see mobile phones assembled in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the first time.
From January 2022, up to 30,000 of Africell’s proprietary featurephone handsets will be assembled at a specialised Industry Five facility in Kinshasa. If the Afriphone handsets meet strict performance standards, they will be made available to DRC’s population of 90 million + people, with further monthly production runs following.
Industry Five’s factory in Kinshasa will be equipped with award-winning modular and mobile workstations. Highly trained local technicians will assemble Afriphone devices on site, assisted by state-of-the art collaborative robots. Performance testing and quality checks will also occur at the facility.
“We want to encourage a critical mass of the skills and functions necessary to the production of mobile technology to take root in DRC”, says Milad Khairallah, CEO of Africell DRC, part of US-owned Africell group. “This is why we are collaborating with Industry Five. By assembling consumer mobile technology here in DRC, we hope to energise the local supply chain, mitigate the supply risks inherent in a highly globalised industry, and direct more of the benefits of booming mobile usage back into DRC’s economy”.
Africell and Industry Five expect the first DRC-made Afriphones to be ready from February 2022. After an initial ‘shakeout’ phase, production will increase and up to a half a million Afriphone handsets could be assembled in the following twelve months. The production process can also be decentralised, meaning that future technical activity could happen at sites in Lubumbashi, Goma, or Bandundu – in addition to Kinshasa, DRC’s capital city.
Industry Five Group’s Chairman, JP Folsgaard-Bak, believes that assembling Afriphones locally is a big step forward in the development of the DRC’s telecommunications sector. “This initiative challenges a common view that the only viable way to get mobile phone into the hands of African consumers is to import them box-ready”, he says. “Instead, we are investing in the workforce and facilities that will bring a key section of the supply chain onto African soil. Advantages include the creation of jobs, more competitive pricing, and a mobile sector in the DRC that is better able to withstand global supply shocks”.
The decision to assemble Afriphones in DRC reflects a broader commitment by both Africell and Industry Five to developing the regional market. In 2021, Africell undertook a record-breaking network expansion in the country, extending infrastructure and launching telecommunications services in several new provinces. Meanwhile, Industry Five’s facilities in DRC are expected to produce a growing range of technology devices, including tablets, laptops, high performance servers, and data storage solutions. The company expects to generate up to five thousand skilled technical jobs in DRC within five years.
“Our mobile network business is meant to be a platform for growth and innovation”, says Sam Williams, Africell’s Group Communications Director. “By assembling Afriphones in DRC, we are stimulating supply chain innovation and making a long-term bet which could transform the economics of mobile provision in our African operating markets”.
The initiative also gives momentum to an important DRC government strategy; namely, to promote higher-tech sectors of the economy.
"Africell’s collaboration with Industry Five combines entrepreneurship and innovation to make mobile technology more accessible”, says DRC’s Minister of Telecommunications, Augustin Kibassa Maliba. “The government is pleased to back the local production of mobile handsets, an activity which is essential link in the telecoms value chain and a project that brings us closer to ideal of full digital inclusion in the DRC”.