Cellular phone fever hits SA

There was continued action on the cellar phone front this week, with Finnish multinational Nokia launching its latest range of phones here and the advertising war among industry players intensifying.

With four months still to go before the general switch-on of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), some retailers say they have sold out of phones as South Africans lap up the special offers.

“In all the countries where I’ve seen GSM launched, I have never seen as cellular fever as in South Africa. People are buying phones months before they can actually use them,” says Nokia’s Africa area manager Kenneth Johnson.

Nokia has benefited immensely from the rush, as the unit being sold by Teljoy Office Mart is the Nokia 1011. The new Nokia 2110 — which Nokia says is the smallest digital phone in the world — was launched in Johannesburg as part of the international launch that began in January. It will probably retail at double the 1011’s price.

Consensus seems to be that prices will come down during the course of the year as demand increases. Radiospoor executive Robin Frew expects prices to drop by up to 35 percent in the next six to nine months.

“Improved technology and increased worldwide demand for GSM will be responsible for this potentially substantial decrease,” says Frew.

Frew is one of a growing number of voices, particularly among service providers, who are calling for consumers not to rush into buying phones now because these instruments will be cheaper soon.

Autopage also cautioned prospective buyers not to fall into the trap of committing themselves to a certain model and service provider too early.

Something to note about the different messages being sent out is that Teljoy, being ahead of everyone else and having the upper hand in the service provider league, wants customers to log on to its system early.

Competitors would like more time to catch up — hence their words of caution.

However, the one advantage of buying a phone now rather than waiting for prices to fall is that service providers and network operators are subsidising prices at the moment in order to get as many subscribers as possible before launch date, so there will be some good deals to be picked over the next few weeks.

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