Emele Onu Lagos

Lenovo, the largest maker of personal computers (PCs), plans to expand its smartphone business in three west African countries this year as it builds on a surge in demand in Nigeria.

The company would sell models of data-enabled phones including the Vibe X, S650 and S930 in Nigeria starting in the first week of next month, Graham Braum, Beijing-based Lenovo’s general manager for Africa, said yesterday in Lagos. The company might start sales in Ghana and Ivory Coast later in the year, he said.

“Smartphones are fast becoming a primary platform for work, entertainment and social networking” in Nigeria, Braum said. Africa’s most populous nation with 170 million people was the next big market for Lenovo following a “successful” entrance in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, he said.

Lenovo agreed to buy Google’s Motorola Mobility phone unit for $2.91 billion (R32bn) last month as it builds up its smartphone business to offset dwindling PC sales. The deal creates the third-biggest smartphone vendor, behind only Apple and Samsung Electronics, both of which already sell phones in Nigeria.

Lenovo was assessing Ivory Coast and Ghana and had not set a date for when it would start to sell phones there, Braum said.

“We have a road map in 2014 to move into countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast and in order to do that we are doing a lot of investigation in the background,” he said. The company wanted to add more countries in the region next year, he said.

Nigeria had 156 million cellphone subscriptions as of October last year, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission. With many subscribers owning more than one phone, user numbers will probably grow to more than 200 million in 2017, London-based research firm Informa Telecoms & Media estimates.

While Lenovo was entering the Nigerian smartphone market after many of its competitors, it was confident that customers would accept its phone brands in the same way they did its PCs, which had a 14 percent market share, Braum said.

“We want to be one of the five top players” within the next year, he said. – Bloomberg