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A $ 20 phone for Africa is MWC's unlikeliest hero

Foldable displays and 5G are the buzzwords that dominates this year's Mobile World Congress. That said, the phone that most impressed me was a budget handset aimed at bridging the vast chasm between the developed world and the developing world. Meet the $ 20 Sanza, from French telecommunications giant Orange.

"This is not a feature phone, and it is not a smartphone. It's somewhere in between, "an orange representative told me. And he was right. The Sanza defies the existing mobile definitions and exists in undefined no-mans-land that makes it hard to accurately describe.

Let's start with the basics. No, it does not run Android. The Sanza's operating system is Kai OS, which itself is a fork of Mozilla's discontinued Firefox OS, as well as one that has enjoyed more success than its predecessor, having recently crossed the 85 million installs mark. Yes, it has a chunky old-school T9. Yes, it's a bit of a brick.

But in terms of software, the Sanza impresses. Do not get me wrong, feature phones have enjoyed app marketplaces for a while now, but it's pretty spectacular to see. Google Assistant running on something more akin with a Nokia 331

0 than a contemporary smartphone.

Admittedly, this was not exactly blazing fast. The Senza took torturously long pauses after Sebastian, the Orange representative, asked that it was not important.

Other applications available for the Sanza include Google Maps, Facebook, and YouTube .

What is it that worked? ] Orange intends to sell the Sanza across the 16 African and Middle Eastern countries where it operates. As you might expect for a French company, most of these are Africa's Francophone nations, like Mali, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, and Côte d'Ivoire. The ultra-affordable handset wants to go on sale in Egypt and Jordan.

So, why should we care? Because phones like the Senza are crucial to promoting ICT in Africa, as well as helping bolster literacy. They are essential for connecting people with accurate real-time news, as well as financial services like M-Pesa and Orange Pay, thus reducing the number of unbanked in the continent. And at $ 20, it's one of the most affordable budget handsets on the market.

Published February 26, 2019 – 13:30 UTC

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