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Kenya’s biggest telecoms operator Safaricom is partnering with Google to offer a million affordable smartphones, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

The telco, which is partly owned by South Africa’s Vodacom and Britain’s Vodafone, is ramping up its data business to offset a decline in mobile calls, where it has seen a small revenue fall due to saturation.

“Data penetration is still not at the right level. Many people don’t have smartphones,” Chief Executive Peter Ndegwa told Reuters after an online investor briefing. Data is one of Safaricom’s fastest-growing revenue lines and it hopes that increased smartphone usage will boost it further.

Customers will pay as little as Sh20 a day for nine months, Ndegwa said, as Safaricom seeks to eventually convert about 4 million 2G and 3G-enabled phones to 4G.

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“If you have an app, you can’t use it on a 2G phone,” he said, adding that Safaricom was also planning to fully cover the country with its 4G network by the end of this year, to further boost the data business.

Rapid growth in the data business during the second half lifted Safaricom’s annual earnings before interest and tax 13.3 per cent to Sh101.5 billion ($950 million). Revenue from mobile data, where Safaricom has been aggressively fighting for market share by offering internet bundles without expiry, rose 12.1 per cent to Sh40.7 billion.

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